Sunday, Feb. 2 I turned 71. I guess that qualifies me to be designated an "old codger." At least, when I was younger that's what I thought. There was a time when I thought anyone with gray hair was an old codger. I looked up the term Sunday because my youngest son wasn't familiar with it. It was variously defined as "an elderly man, esp. one who is old-fashioned or eccentric; an amusingly eccentric or grumpy and usually elderly man; a somewhat eccentric man, especially an old one; a man, esp an old or eccentric one: a term of affection or mild derision." I'm hoping anyone who considers me a codger is doing it with affection.
The etymology of the word was interesting. There seems to be no agreement on it. Some see it as derived from old English or Scottish cadger, a paddler, beggar, moocher, etc.; others say it is a combination of coffin dodger contracted to codger. I kind of like the coffin dodger idea.
We have chickens, so I was very interested when I saw an article in Scientific American (available in the magazine rack at Sunshine Foods) about the apparent intelligence of chickens. I have noticed that chickens seem to learn things and have been impressed by how well ours adapted to living wild during the summer and early fall, but I had not appreciated how intelligent they may actually be until after reading the Scientific American article.
My low opinion of chicken intelligence was biased by my personal observations of how little regard they have for sanitation and by my low opinion of the roosters courting techniques. (Actually, more my wife Melanie's opinion.)
Researchers studying chicken intelligence, (some people obviously have an excess of free time) created a virtual environment where they could expose chickens to different situations, observe their actions and listen to their vocalizations. They found that chickens actually communicate information to each other with various sounds. There are, for example, different vocalizations for warning about an aerial predator from warning about a terrestrial predator.
Even more interesting, they found that chickens think about whether they really want to communicate or not, whether it is in their best interest to say something or just to keep quiet and let nature take its course, so to speak. Roosters compete for mating opportunities and researchers observed that when a rooster sees a predator, it will look around to see what other chickens are present. If there are hens, the rooster will sound the alarm, but if there are no hens, only other roosters, he will seek shelter and remain silent. (Ever had friends like that?)
Hens were observed to be more likely to sound the alarm is there were chicks present than if there were not, but don't seem quite as devious as the roosters.
While I'm on the subject of chickens, ours are still producing eggs at an amazing rate. Our 19 hens continue to turn out an average of 17 eggs daily, and we are having a hard time finding takers. Our plan had been to give eggs to the food shelf, but it turns out the food shelf can't take the eggs because we aren't inspected. For the same reason, we are not allowed to sell the eggs unless buyers come by our property to pick them up. We've started giving them to our staff and anyone who comes to visit at the house. I feel like gardeners who raise zucchini must feel while trying to find takers for their squash. (Which, by the way, chickens love.)
Sunday evening shortly after six, Emily and I drove home from the office in Dodge Center. Emily commented that it was 4º out according to the temperature gauge in the car. As we drove home, she noted each time the temperature dropped a degree. By the time we got home, it had dropped to -1ºF. It didn't seem too bad out. I guess my perception of cold is changing as well as my perception of old.