The Mushroom Farmer, Chapter 17

Oh, the ramshackliness.

Mid-torrent, the mf had struggled mightily to erect a shelter for his drenched hens.

Plan A had not panned out. The hens were so wet, they were walking chicken soup. How they felt about being so wet was, the mf inferred, perturbed. They would like not to be this wet nor so cold. I am just like these birds, the mf thought.

Off-balance as a three-legged cabinet

The mf also had thought the hens had managed their own natural shelter perfectly. That was Plan A. Roost inside the Pride of Madeira bushes. The Pride of Madeira maintains fleshy, canoe-shaped leaves all winter long, holding the leaves aloft on tall, strong, flexible stalks. The chickens work themselves into the nether reaches of the Pride of Madeira, where they hover above a dry floor of cushiony dead Pride of Madeira leaves. Cozy as shag carpeting.

Not so much right now, however, mid-torrent, the downpour filling the mf’s upturned baseball bucket and the green plastic water cannister, splash by splash by splash. The swimming pool is a peaceful riot of reverberation. The hens are soaked, though, and the mf actually cannot erect this fucking tent.

He just actually broke off half of a support beam, dang, snapped it off as though he himself, the mf, is the natural force to be reckoned with in this situation. Dang. The same mf — who supplemented the hen’s natural shelter with a hand-laid thatch of downed Canary Island palm fronds, first hacking off the needle-sharp leaves at the base with his machete — this would-be hen-protector snaps the beam of the roof he’s failing mid-rainstorm to erect over their heads.

The mf takes a moment to reflect that he did not mean to snap the tent beam in two. It is an occasion of his being too strong for his own good. Also, the ozone may be going to his head and/or he is dehydrated, which can lead to bad and/or deranged outcomes. Then there is the geometry of the coop, deliberately slanted à la The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari to keep intruders off balance. The fine black plastic mesh stretched over the coop to repel hawks also plays a number on him. It grabs at the nub of his gray LA Rams beanie, ignoring the fierce horns of the Rams logo.

Nevertheless, the mf strives mightily to raise high the roofbeams, carpenter, whatever that’s even supposed to mean, the mf has literary associations where practical handiness is for other people. Everybody is good at something. The mf gradually realizes the problem is that he is simply not tall enough.

Five nine is good enough for most things but not for erecting this hen-protecting canopy. The mf hereby surrenders. He quits. That’s it. He’s been out-gamed by the rain, tip of the beanie, sometimes you lose.

NAW!

This is the mf we’re talking about. He goes and gets a step-ladder from the garage and goes another round with the impossible. So much grunting is heard. It sounds like urgggggggggh. It sounds like HHUHH. It is also un-vocalized panting.

Sometimes summoning strength beyond what he possesses works, sometimes it doesn’t. The mf clearly does not understand the design logic of this temporary structure. It might help if he did, but his construction effort increasingly resembles desperate lashing out.

What emerges is not good, but minimally adequate. The dripping goes in a down direction on all four sides. There is a foursquare court sized dry area in the center. Here the MF places a two cubic foot cardboard box half full of pine wood flakes: the best manger he can muster.

And the ground isn’t muddy because the MF did have the foresight to lay down a good three inches of fresh straw all around. Good thinking, MF!

He leaves it to the birds to figure out if they want to try and get dry, stay dry. He has done what he can.

This is something to remember for the next time the mf tells himself he’s doing his very best. Is he summoning strength beyond what he possesses? Does he understand the design?


The next morning, the birds are fine. He feeds them buckwheat, which they all like, Clucky the most. Now he is going to look up rain-proofing a chicken coop and find a better way.

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky has been writing stories and essays since he was a music snob prodigy in early-1970's San Antonio, Texas. Since then he has written about not only music but also baseball, gardening, teaching, parenting, cycling and the... glory of love. Lit Hub and The Sun have published his work, and so has the Austin Chronicle. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he teaches English to some of the nicest kids in the world at an arts-themed public high school downtown.

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