Written 17 April 2002
Did we do school today? No, the school chairs sat empty and the phonics book lay untouched on the bookshelf. There are simply some days that were not meant to be school days. God did not design little boys to sit inside on a sunny 90 degree April day writing spelling words and doing math problems. It goes against the natural order of things.
As we begin to drag out the garden tools from the shop Alec says, “Mom, look what Gracie has.” I look over at the 75 pound German Shepard who has a mouthful of brightly colored feathers and an innocent look in her eyes. We drop the tools to investigate. The bird is mortally wounded in the chest. We look over its various kinds of feathers. Some are brown with spots, some bright yellow, some bright red, some short and soft, and some are long and stiff. We stretch out its wing. We look at the tiny bones that move as we fold the wing in and out. We notice the orientation of the claws. How are they the same or different from the chicken’s feet? How would this bird use its feet differently than the chickens do? We look at its beak. It’s long and has holes in the top. What did God design it to do? Is it attached to the skull? We take a picture for our nature journal.
We release the anxiously awaiting cat to have her snack. Crunch. Crunch. Does her body digest the bones? If so, what mineral would her body gain from eating the bones? The bird’s death is sustaining the cat’s life and also that of her kittens. Death of one gives life to others. After the food chain and spiritual lessons we salvage a claw, a wing and a jar of yellow feathers to keep as treasures. We nail the head to a tree in the woods to let it decay. Maybe in time we’ll know what the skull looks like and how the beak is connected. Sometimes answers to our questions come over time and require patience. I suggest “When we go in, you should look up the bird in the field guide so that you know what to call it when you describe it to Dad tonight.”
We return to the garden. Potatoes first. Alec’s favorite garden task is cutting the potatoes with Dad’s big knife, a family heirloom that was made by my grandfather. I instruct, “Make sure each piece has an eye and is at least a cubic inch.” I soon hear “Should I cut this one again? Is it too big?” We look over the various potato chunks discussing which are about a cubic inch and which could be cut again. Meanwhile Adam is placing the chunks in the furrows. “Adam, place them with the eye up. That’s where the plant grows from.”
As we work, we notice curious kitten faces peeking out of the chicken coop door. Stripes and Tiger Eyes (the two mother cats that share kittens) decide it’s time to move the kittens from the coop to the doghouse. We watch the first kitten being carried across the garden, up and over the fence post and placed under the doghouse.
As I watch I think of the day three weeks before when Alec charged into the house “MOM! Tiger Eyes exploded with kittens and they’re dead, all over the chicken coop floor!!!!!” It was a cold, snowy April afternoon. I arrived on the scene armed with a plastic bag and pair of gloves to “deal with it.” Sure enough, the first time mom had gotten scared and had a kitten here, there, everywhere. As I picked up the cold, lifeless bodies we noticed one of the kittens had a birth defect and could not have survived. Alec said, “I didn’t know that could happen.” Through that one kitten, God taught him a gentle lesson on the genetics of a fallen world. I placed the kittens into the bag one by one and as I picked up the last one I noticed one small twitch. No other sign of life, just one twitch. Snakes twitch after they’re dead, maybe kittens do too. Regardless, we have to give life a chance. I left the bag on the shop floor as I headed inside to warm this one kitten over the wood stove. Within ten minutes of warmth, it was squirming and mewing. Then I thought, is there still a spark of life somewhere in that plastic bag? We lined a large stainless steel bowl with an old towel, placed it on the warming tray of the wood stove and filled it with cold, stiff kittens. Within a half an hour, we had three survivors. Life is a gift and we rejoice in it.
On to the melons, squash and such. Adam reads the seed packages and spells words such as “zucchini” and “cantaloupe” to me as I make markers for each hill. Beans and peas, 3 to 4 inches apart. Corn (more enthusiastic helpers here) 6 to 8 inches apart. Upon inspection, I say, “That’s too close. Let’s take out every other seed and then it will be about right.” “How many seeds do you have left? Do you think there is enough for another row?”
We take a break in the shade of the chicken coop and watch another kitten get moved. We help move the last four kittens to the doghouse and watch them all nurse at the “milking machine.” Giggling, Adam points to two kittens and says, “Look mom, they’re fighting over a nibble.”
No, we didn’t do school today. Maybe there’ll be time for that tomorrow.
by Kim Fender