Mountain Woman + Bear = Innovation

When I returned home about 9:30 last night after babysitting my grandson and began the evening chores by flashlight, I knew something was amiss the moment I saw the lidded five-gallon bucket, that normally sat under the chicken house, out in the pasture. The chickens! I thought, panic-stricken, aiming my beam of light through the chicken house window, and sighed with relief when I saw my hens perched safely where they were supposed to be. Sort of huddled together in a nervous mass; not spread out like clothes on the line and making their contented evening sounds, but alive. Good. Whatever had tossed the bucket in the pasture hadn’t gotten them.

That’s when I saw the door. It was hanging open… one board skewed at an odd angle with a large chunk of wood missing at the bottom. A separate door that allowed access to the nesting boxes was laying on the ground, cedar shaving scattered everywhere. No eggs, of course. Both water containers were tipped over and there were several battens ripped off the side of the structure, tossed aside like matchsticks. There was only one answer to the question of what had done such damage… a bear.

By this time my heart was up in my throat, beating madly and I was jumping at every sound. My husband was out of town on business. I was all alone where no one could hear me scream for help, and the bear might be watching me from the dark woods at that very moment. Making things as secure as possible as quickly as possible, I finished the chores and raced to the house, double locking the doors.

This wasn’t the first trouble we’ve had with bears. One got into our barn through a window… twice. Stole a container of cat food on his first go-around. The second time he trashed my milk stall, stealing an entire fifty pounds of goat feed. I would’ve loved to see how he managed to get it out that window, from a safe distance, of course. His foray hadn’t done any structural damage then, but this time it was a different story.

This morning, I surveyed the damage in the light of day. Yikes! Three fence posts were flattened to the ground. Bending them back up and fixing the chicken wire was accomplished pretty quickly. The battens were an easy fix, too. Just pound the bent nails out and hammer them up again. The nesting box door would require another set of hands to help me, so it would have to stay propped up for now, but the large door had to be fixed today. It offered no protection in its present state. My husband and I had acquired this door from an abandoned outhouse we discovered while out hiking years ago. It was weathered, but sturdy oak, with remnants of cornflower blue paint still visible. This was the second chicken house we’d used it on, and other than the huge chunk missing now, it was still sound. I had to try to save it.

I managed to pry the destroyed board the rest of the way off and began my search for a replacement. Lo and behold, I found one in the pile of remaining boards we’d had milled from oak trees when we cleared our pasture. We’d used some of those boards for stalls in the barn and some as a floor for my office in the house. This was one of the few we had left. It was the right width and thickness, but too short. Hmmm. What to do?

My solution was to cut the damaged board at the halfway point, allowing room for nails to attach it to the crosspiece, and then cut the new board the right length to fill the rest of the space. Keep in mind this was the first time I EVER used the electric saw. I always depended on my husband to do any cutting that needed to be done. I was too afraid I’d cut a finger off. But I did it! And with no casualties! All ten fingers remained intact.

The oak board was so hard, I had to drill pilot holes for the nails, but I got the door repaired all by myself. It gave me the same feeling I had after finishing my first half-marathon last year. A real feeling of accomplishment… very in touch with my “inner homesteader,” and living up to the motto that came about during the Great Depression: use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without; an illustration of “going green” that takes recycling to a whole new level.