Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #30 Learn the art of the occasional yield


A nugget of EMS organizational wisdom every day.#30 Learn the art of the occasional yield

I believe Mateo has learned the art of the occasional yield.

Mateo is a big black dog. At his last weigh-in at the vet’s, he tipped the scales at 97 pounds and he’s likely over the century mark at this point. He’s a gentle soul who is likely to do more damage with his wagging tail than anything else.

Mateo is a rescue we adopted soon after we moved here. He had languished for weeks at the shelter probably because he was big, black, and not a puppy. We don’t know anything about his previous life and he’s never said much about his past.

He has worked out the amount of shared space and attention he’s willing to share and he just goes with it. At the end of the day, Mateo knows he’ll be climbing the stairs with us to our bedroom and taking his usual sleeping spot at the foot of our bed – or sharing the bottom half of Emma’s bed.

He knows he’s got his own space and seatbelt in the car – and he knows he’s the only animal in the household who gets to accompany us on long walks in the country.

Mateo knows he’s an integral part of this pack.

This is Mateo’s reindeer toy. It makes a squeaking noise when squeezed. When we first presented it to him, there was a fair amount of squeaking going on. And then he moved on to the joys of running after and retrieving squeaky tennis balls. The reindeer became a mostly forgotten toy of early days. So much so it ended up moving outdoors onto the porch where it spent Christmakah as a hanging ‘ornament’ on one of the bird feeder hooks [much to Dianne’s chagrin].

So this reindeer toy is not a part of his everyday existence.

The other day, Becel [chicken] was roaming around on the porch. She’s a social creature.

Mateo was lounging in the sunshine and seemed relatively disinterested in the proceedings. Becel wandered past Mateo. No reaction other than a raised eyebrow. Mateo does the raised eyebrow better than anyone other than the late great John Belushi. Mateo is a dog of few gestures and the raised eyebrow is one of his best.

And then Becel wandered over to the reindeer toy. She looked it over. And then she gave it a few pecks. And then a few more pecks. Mateo raised his other eyebrow but made no other visible move.

Becel wandered to the far side of the porch.

Mateo made his move. He got up, walked over to the reindeer toy and picked it up in his mouth. And then he gave it an absolutely wicked all-out death thrashing. Lots of squeaking, saliva and dog hair fallout in the immediate area. Then he put it down and calmly returned to his spot in the sun.

Becel got off the porch in record speed and joined Shania in the yard much farther away from the house.

Mateo demonstrated, quite eloquently, that while practicing the art of the occasional yield is a good thing, all-out surrender should only be considered in the face of insurmountable odds.

Be well. Practice big medicine.



Newman | The Positive Paramedic #21 Embrace the rake

A nugget of EMS organizational wisdom every day. #21 Embrace the rake.

Back in April of this year, Becel taught me an important lesson in resource utilization.

Becel is a chicken. She’s one of our laying hens. Becel was hatched last year. She got her name because she was the colour of Becel margarine when she was a chick. She produces startlingly large eggs. Becel is quite social and gets along well with Mateo – our 100-pound big black dog.

Every day, Di tries to ensure Becel and Shania get some free-range time outside in the yard. Minnie is busy raising five chicks these days so she hangs out in the coop with the kids. Becel and Shania love to forage in the leaves for bugs and worms. On warmer days they delight in dust baths.

Yesterday afternoon, I was hauling the last of the firewood out of the yard and throwing it down the chute into the basement. After each section of firewood was cleared, there’d be a pile of bark, beetles, centipedes and other bits of detritus leftover from the winter months which necessitated me picking up a rake to clear the ground.

Sometime after clearing the second section I noticed Becel standing off to the side watching me with that funky sideways blinky stare only a chicken can manage. “What are you doing, Becel?” said the human talking to the chicken. No reply.

She stood there patiently until I cleared the third section of firewood and picked up the rake. Becel ran over and worked the freshly turned earth laid bare with the rake for a veritable harvest of crawling critters that were left out in the open once the firewood was displaced. Every time I raked, Becel stood to the side and waited for me to be done then she ran in and worked the ground with her beak. It was no-waiting and all you can eat at the buggy buffet.

This routine continued for the better part of the afternoon as I hauled firewood and then raked each section. When I was done raking the last part of the yard, Becel wound up her feast-for-all and headed back to hang out with Shania.

I thought it was interesting that the chicken very quickly worked out that it was perfectly fine to embrace the rake even though I wasn’t even the same species and we hadn’t actually forged any type of formal working agreement. I raked and Becel took care of the bug infestation. Not a worm or a beetle left anywhere.

Were it always so easy to find ways to share specialized resources. All too often we get so bogged down with the extraneous crapola of business – the discussion about mutually beneficial arrangements, the lack of an assurance of success, stranger danger, the minutia of paperwork.. instead of just getting on with the task at hand and trusting that it will pan out for all involved.

Sometimes we just need to act like a chicken and embrace the rake.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


Newman | Chicken humour

Stanstead QC | 11 Feb 2012

Chickens are interesting little creatures. Who’d have thunk it? If you live long enough in the city with no exposure to farm life, you can be forgiven if you begin believing that chickens are egg-laying automatons. And then one day you find yourself walking out to the chicken coop in your backyard, insulated red plaid L.L. Bean shirt providing a much-needed layer of protection against the early morning chill. Yes, I am the caretaker of three hens named Minnie, Shania and Becel.

Shania is an Easter-Egger. She’s part Araucana and so when she lays eggs they are a delicate shade of blue. It’s quite amazing to behold when one of Shania’s eggs graces the palm of your hand. Tastes the same as other fresh-laid eggs.* Just looks entirely and extraordinarily different. Shania’s plumage looks a bit like she’s wearing an extravagant costume with golden feathers on her neck. She’s not the friendliest of the crew. Actually, Shania is downright ornery when given the opportunity to express herself with beak or feet. Picking her up is always an interesting exercise in faked assertiveness – because, really, I’d just as soon get the heck out of there.

I don’t pick the chickens up on a regular basis however sometimes it’s a necessity. This summer they had a mite infestation in their nesting box and the only way to off the little buggers was to provide them with a pesticide powder dust bath. And that involved me donning a mask and gloves, pouring some of the powder into a plastic garbage bag, and then picking up a chicken and wrapping her in the bag – with her head sticking out. A good shake and the pesticide powder was well applied to her feathers. I managed to emerge from the process with only a few scratches and a new-found respect for just how quickly and powerfully a hen can bring her beak and feet together to inflict pain on one’s hand.

Minnie is a little Silkie hen. Silkies are known for their fluffy plumage. Minnie is an almost always elegant little chicken. Except, of course, when she’s enjoying the benefits of a dirt bath. Chickens dig their own outdoor spa-bowls in the ground and then use the loose dirt and dust to clean their feathers of any unwelcome bugs. When Minnie emerges from her dirt bath she’s a surreal mix of earth tones, bright white plumage, and her super-chicken blue earlobes. No, really, Minnie has blue earlobes. She’s a super chicken. And a supermom.

Minnie is the surrogate mom of Becel.

Becel is a hen raised from an egg by Minnie. Minnie went broody and we provided her with three fertilized eggs from our friends Jacques & Brigitte’s chicken coop. Minnie was absolutely dedicated to those eggs. She sat on them day and night for nearly a month – climbing off her eggs only long enough to eat, drink and poop. All of which she accomplished in a short break every day. Only one of the eggs hatched and Becel (the colour of margarine)  was born. She climbed under Minnie and slept beneath her Mom’s tummy until she eventually graduated to sleeping beneath one of her wings. Becel grew quickly and soon dwarfed her mom but she was always seeking comfort and protection by trying to tuck in under Minnie’s wings. That’s Becel on the far right in the picture below taken in their winter quarters – the newly renovated and insulated shed/chicken coop.

This piece is titled ‘Chicken humour’ because of a peculiar incident which occurred earlier this week as I worked inside the coop to spruce it up, rake through the shavings, shovel out the poop, refill their water tank (heated), and change their heat lamp for a new bulb. Normally the ladies are quite content to explore the shed while I work in the coop. I’ll leave the outside door open and they stand on the sill contemplating the snow and the ice outside but for whatever reason are not tempted to hop down and explore the frozen landscape. This time however the hens took turns climbing onto the toes of my huge Sorel boots and riding them around the coop while I worked. So I got my chores done amid a raucous display of cackling, clucking and wing flapping. It was very silly. Right out of a Monty Python skit. Walk this way, I said to myself as I flapped my arms like wings and wandered about with a chicken on each boot top. They didn’t leave any poop as a deposit so I’m guessing it was all just a bit of chicken humour among friends. I feel honoured.

Life in the country.. with chickens.

*PS. Once you’ve eaten a farm-fresh egg there’s no going back to the egg-like objects in those cartons in the supermarket. Wow. The taste is amazing and your scrambled eggs, eggs over easy, sunny-sides-up, hard-boiled, chopped egg sandwiches, omelettes, quiches, and french toast will never be the same. I’ll let you know when we’ve got a few more hens in ‘the house’ and we’re ready to sell some of our eggs down at the end of our drive.