Carol recently left a comment on one of my posts, referring to herself as one of my ‘anonymous followers’, and inquired as to whether I could help her find homes for her Orpington cockerels.
I met up with her a couple of weeks ago, took photos of her birds and got to know a bit about her.
She was born in an old New England mill town where her granddad worked as a Stationary Engineer in the local mill. Her dad had been drafted into the military and was stationed in another state until she was two, which meant she spent a lot of time in the company of her mum and grandfather. He owned a three-story tenement building where they lived and was an avid gardener who instilled the love of plants in her. Carol had her own tulip beds as a teenager and even now she can’t see a daisy without thinking of him.
Her interest in plants continued and she decided to take a B.A. in Botany at a State University, which was followed by a Masters in Botany at the University of British Columbia. When I asked about her work she rattled off the scientific names of various species, which was all just Latin to me. I must have appeared a bit glassy-eyed because she gave me the Coles Notes version: “I studied seaweeds and pond scum”.
She explained that some of these, particularly the larger seaweeds, are well-known to beach walkers, and have familiar common names, like kelp. But most of the algal species, which live in freshwater a.k.a. “pond scum”, and many of the marine varieties, are only identifiable under the microscope, and only go by their scientific names. Hence, the Coles Notes version, to explain what algae are. Carol brought out some texts to show me beautiful and intricate algae that looked like snow flakes.
“What’s so interesting about algae that a person could spend an entire teaching career enthusing about them? They are often beautiful, various in form, colour, reproduction, do cool lifestyle things.
Not to mention all those microscopic, even more varied species, sharing our ponds and lakes and oceans, so many unique lives. When I was collecting water samples, to see what algae might be in them, my mom asked what I was doing. When I responded that there were all these invisible creatures going about their lives in my samples, she said “Do you mean when I go swimming there are all those things ALIVE in there with me?” – Carol
On her first day at UBC, she was in her advisor’s office with another grad student, Stephen, who turned to their advisor and asked “Well, aren’t you going to introduce us?” She did, and after a short courtship, they married. Carol attributes the whirlwind pace of their relationship to culture shock: being away from her family for the first time, in another country, as a pretty untraveled and unsophisticated young woman. Stephen was also American, nine years older and ready to settle down.
By then, he had dropped out of the graduate program. Before coming to Canada, he was a math teacher in New York and decided to pursue a career in computer programming, working for the science faculty creating data collection tools. She earned her Masters degree and he joked that he married his.
Carol came to Canada expecting to stay for two or three years to get her Master’s, but Stephen wanted to stay here permanently. They had two kids, Jennifer and Tim, just nineteen months apart and bought a house in Vancouver for $34,900, which was more than they wanted to spend. We laughed because that house would be worth a small fortune now. But not to her – she sold it in the 1980’s for what seemed then an enormous six times what they had paid.
When her kids were small she was a stay-at-home mum and worked part-time in the evenings at the university.
In 1975, Stephen discovered a bleeding mole. He went straight from his doctor’s office to the hospital for a biopsy, where he was diagnosed with melanoma. He was considered cancer-free for 18 months, then found the cancer had spread to both lungs. During his month-long hospital stay her daily routine was to get a babysitter to care for the kids, while she visited him. When the cancer re-occurred, Carol was determined to care for him at home, which she did until his death 18 months later. At 34, she was a widow with two children, aged 6 and 7.
Carol continued working at UBC in the Botany department part-time for a year. In 1979, she got an appointment as a sessional lab instructor for the algae courses. After a number of years she became a tenured Senior Instructor, teaching some of the same courses, along with more general Botany courses, and maintaining a living collection of freshwater algae for teaching purposes. She worked in the teaching labs for 26 years: Carol feels blessed to have spent time with colleagues and students she liked, work that she enjoyed, having autonomy and flexibility. When Carol retired a few years early, she joked that the old vaudeville adage applied: always leave them wanting more before they bring out the hook and drag you off-stage.
Her retirement was sparked by the birth of her first grandchild, Bella. Her son, Tim, lived on Gabriola and she rented here for a year to see how she liked it. Turns out she didn’t. At that time she wasn’t driving or getting involved in the community and her loneliness drove her back to Vancouver.
In 2008, she bought a house here, which Tim lived in. At that time, Carol wasn’t thinking of moving back here, but three years later she did. The original house was only 960 square feet. Tim, who’s a builder, added a new wing containing a bedroom, bathroom, dining room and pottery studio. There’s also a workshop, porch and of course, a chicken coop.
In the late 1990s, Carol joined a pottery group in Vancouver. A gift of a Mexican pot sparked her interest in burnishing and pit firing. She took a 3-day course with a First Nations potter, but is otherwise self-taught. She showed me some of her work, which is hand-built without using a wheel. They are burnished-polished with a smooth stone, get a low firing in her kiln, and then are fired outside. Originally firing pits were dug in the ground, but are now made of un-mortared bricks, which look a bit like a small chimney come to roost (appropriate term, no?) on the ground. It’s filled with sawdust and set on fire for 24 hours. We don’t have ideal conditions for that sort of activity here: glacial, rocky till, lots of tree roots to contend with and hot summers when we can’t have open burning. Tim has built a covered area over the firing pit so it can be used during the rainy season.
She also makes some higher-fired, in the kiln, glazed pots. Lots of these pieces are decorated with images of algae. She takes enlarged black and white illustrations of one-dimensional algae and prints them on Xerox transparencies. Then she painstakingly cuts the image and lays it on unfired pot, adds glaze, removing the transparency image before firing. The result is very intricate magnified replicas of something so small, most of us would never have imagined what they actually look like.
The pottery has taken a bit of a backseat this winter since getting chickens a couple of years ago. She had some ups and downs the first little while, a few chicken illnesses, a few unexpected roosters.
Tim built the coop and pen, which is totally netted overhead. The coop is compact and split into two halves: feeders on one side and nest boxes and roost bars mounted over wire mesh covered in hay on the other. The poop can be knocked through the wire floor into the box below and cleaned out from a hatch accessible on the outside of the coop. That makes poop removal easier and keeps the inside clean.
In September 2018 I allowed one of my lovely young hens to finally keep, and brood, a clutch of eggs. I first began keeping chickens in November 2016, and all during the summer of 2017, little Blue Laced Orpington went broody once a month. I did not feel ready to try raising chicks at that point, so removed each egg as she sat upon it. I would also lift her off the empty nest once or twice a day to ensure that she was eating, drinking and grooming. She did all three, quite rapidly, all the time keeping up a running commentary, evidently addressed to her empty nest and non-existent chicks. It sounded something like “Mother’s coming, don’t worry, she’ll be right back.” I felt quite sad for her at the time.
She did not go broody again until this past September, and I finally let her hatch some eggs. She made a lovely and capable little mother, and produced seven healthy chicks from seven eggs. This has been a very steep learning curve for me, but I am glad that I did it nonetheless. – Carol
They enclosed an area adjoining the coop for the mum and babies. As they grew, they were able to see the main flock through the shared fence. The hen and her two pullets were later integrated into the other side, while the bachelor boys had their quarters awaiting new homes.
Unfortunately five of the chicks were cockerels – not great odds when you don’t need another rooster. She has one – their dad – so needed to find homes for them. I managed to find a forever home for the Lavender Orpington and four of my pullets with someone on Vancouver Island. I’m happy to report they have integrated well as a new flock, the girls are laying and apparently the rooster is doing his job.
Her flock has now stabilized at one Lavender Orpington rooster and eight hens –six Orpingtons of varying colours and two pullets: one Appenzeller Spitzhauben x Easter Egger from my birds and one Buff Orpington x, both hatched and raised by Thomas and Elizabeth.
Carol has two chicken helpers in the form of her grandchildren: Bella, now 14, who assists with chores: locking up the coop, cleaning and poop-patrol, and is a talented chicken whisperer. Apparently she has a way with her grandmother’s birds – she can pick up a hen and get it to sit comfortably in her lap – something Carol hasn’t quite managed; and Star, age 6. I bumped into Carol and Star at the ferry yesterday. She was taking him into town for his tap dance lessons, something she’s done weekly since the fall. I chatted with him a bit: in addition to being a budding ‘Tap Dog’, he also takes Ukulele lessons and likes to help his grandma collect her eggs.
When she’s not busy with her grandkids, pottery and chickens, Carol volunteers at People For A Healthy Community’s (PHC) soup socials and for two years was on the Steering Committee for the The Commons South Garden Allotments where she also has a community garden allotment. She enjoys growing vegetables (garlic, tomatoes, squash, beets, etc.) and the company, and gardening expertise, of other gardeners.