The Chicken Saga

We arrived several weeks ago to find that chickens have taken up residence in the apartment complex where we stay when we visit the coast. Domestic chickens gone wild, it seems. Feral chickens!

In May or June one lone hen arrived. She must have had a good time for herself before she came, because she immediately made a nest and hatched eight chicks. Several of our friends here were charmed by the little brood and have been feeding the chickens. Another of the neighbors drives fifteen miles to a feed and seed to get the chickens the right kind of food.

By the time we got here, the mom hen had departed and left the chicks to fend for themselves. The ones who prospered had grown into five beautiful young birds, blue-black and brown, with bright red combs. Unfortunately, the first week we were here we had a very bad storm with howling winds. The speculation was that one of the chickens ended up “gone with the wind,” so to speak. My husband Tom, unfortunately, found grizzly evidence that it had come to a far more gruesome end.

Anyway, the four remaining chickens — two hens and two roosters — have chosen to settle for the night in the trees right opposite our back windows. At dusk we repair to the kitchen to watch them come, pecking and swaying, to settle for the night. To reach the trees the chickens must climb a tall fence and hop up into the trees that grow just on the opposite side. They may be handsome birds, but they’re not good fliers. Yet somehow they manage to hop and flap up onto the cross-braces, then up onto the top rail of the fence, which is about six feet off the ground. Finally, they climb onto one of the sturdy lower branches of the trees. Once there, they inch their way higher and higher, like tightrope walkers. There is much flapping and squawking until everyone is settled. As they do, we cackle at their antics. (Pun fully intended.)

We have heard reports that they start crowing about 5:30 A.M., though you couldn’t prove it by either of us. Their presence has begun to divide the people in the complex into pro-chicken and anti-chicken factions. The anti-chicken group called the pest man to catch the birds and take them away (probably to his stew pot), but he couldn’t seem to locate them. Naturally, the pro-chicken faction refused to offer him any help.

I know attrition will eventually get all of them, but in the meantime we are enjoying the nightly chicken ballet — and trying to remember not to park for the night under that particular group of trees.

Charles Rollo Peters

Dear Friends —

It’s funny where the ideas for stories come from, and how far they sometimes travel to awaken a writer’s imagination. One of these story journeys began when I stumbled across gravesitethis beautiful and intriguing grave site behind the ornate iron fence of one of California’s oldest cemeteries. The burying ground in Monterey dates back to the 1820’s and lies on a peninsula between the sheltering arms of the Estero, a fresh water estuary that meanders down from the hills above the town and out into the bay. This exquisite portrait bust, I found out, marks the grave of Kathleen Mary Murphy Peters who, the inscription said, died in Monterey in 1902. Intrigued by the marker, I went home and Googled Kathleen Mary to see who she was. What I found was that she was the wife of painter Charles Rollo Peters whose nocturnes critics compare to the work of James McNeill Whistler. (Nocturnes are works done to simulate the landscape or the building in the painting in the light of early evening or the glow of the moon.)

Apparently Charles Rollo Peters and Kathleen were a love match and around the turn ofportrait_bust the twentieth century they lived an idyllic and Bohemian life in their estate that overlooked the sea in Monterey. Drawn by the beauty of the ocean; the beaches; the moody, magnificent cypress and pines, many of their artist friends came to stay and paint and party at the estate that became known as “Peters’ Gate.” (The house — much altered — and stone gateposts still stand today on Munros hill.) Gradually more and more artists congregated in Monterey, turning the picturesque little town of adobes into a flourishing artist colony.

As I researched Charles and Kathleen’s life in Monterey, I discovered that there were a surprisingly large number of women active in the colony. I fell in love with their sunny colors and the vibrancy in their brush strokes as they painted in the style that came to be known as American Impressionism. I also found myself wondering what it would be like for a woman to make her way as an artist in the early nineteen hundreds.

I know from being a career novelist how challenging it is to balance the demands of being a creative and a woman. It made me wonder what difficulties a woman might face in becoming a serious artist a hundred years ago. Was she accepted as an equal? What sacrifices might a woman be forced to make to fulfill her ambition of being a painter? And therein — I thought — might just hang a tale worth telling. Though I am not ready to talk about it yet, that appears to be the historical direction the next novel is taking.

I will tell you that the Peters will probably not make more than a cameo appearance in the book, because their story is so sad. In 1902 their charmed life shattered when Kathleen portrait_bust2died after giving birth to twins. Two years later their baby daughter, also named Kathleen, stumbled into an open fire and perished. Charles was inconsolable at the depth of his loss and commissioned the beautiful grave marker for his wife and daughter. He continued to paint for another twenty-five years and went on to even greater fame and fortune. But in many ways his life was empty without his first love and their baby daughter.

Little did I know when I paused beneath a row of towering eucalyptus trees to look at Kathleen’s grave, that in the rattle and rasp of the leaves fluttering overhead I’d hear the whispers of a story.

My very best —


Flowers at the dump

One thing I love about spending time on the coast is the surprises. I can never quite anticipate what I might hear or see or run across next. Sometimes it’s spotting dolphins from the bedroom balcony, or running into the lady at the post office who has two Mallard ducks in a pet carrier on the back of her bicycle. Sometimes it’s seeing the grim reaper waving his scythe at you from the side of the highway to protest the war. Or maybe it’s watching several kites with lights soar over the beach at night, and knowing someone out there is bound to call the local TV station and claim they’re seeing UFOs.

But finding the flowers on our way to the dump was one of my favorite surprises.

Like all of you, we accumulate things. Because our place here is small, we have to weed out periodically, pack everything in the back of the car and head to the dump. Ahem – the recycling center.

Not surprisingly, the dump is out in the middle of nowhere, down a long, long road thickly lined with poplars. So we were tooling along, doing our duty as responsible citizens, when off to our left we saw something that made our mouths drop open.

There, glimpsed in picket-fashion between the trees, were fields of flowers. I’m not talking about ditch lilies or dandelions, either. I’m talking about farmers’ fields thick with plants in full blossom. Big fields, longer than four or five football fields, and running off toward the horizon.

Dodging whizzing garbage trucks, we looked for a wide spot at the edge of the road and screeched to a stop. There, just beyond the poplars and a chain-link fence, were more flowers that I have ever seen in one place in my life. They were Begonias, I think, though we couldn’t get close enough to be sure.

The flowers were planted in color groups, so the plants grow in both wide and narrow stripes. Because the fields are hilly, those stripes seem to rise and fall, undulating across the landscape. It’s like someone spread a brightly colored quilt across acres of farmland, as if a score of rainbows have fallen to earth.

Luckily, we had our cameras with us so we could share our discovery with you.

Since that day, we’ve asked around about the flowers, and come to find out, most of the locals don’t even know the fields are there. Which makes the magic of finding them all the more wondrous. Finally we found an explanation. The flowers are planted, allowed to completely mature, and processed for seeds. From what we were told, they plant about three or four fields a season, which explains why sometimes the fields on the way to the dump are ablaze with color and sometimes they’re just dun-gray earth.

Enjoy the photos,