4. What I Did During My COVID Vacation, Part 1

In short: I built a chicken coop without leaving home. It’s embarrassing how long I’d been thinking about it and talking about doing it. But it wasn’t procrastination that kept me from it—it was caution. A big ogre owned the place next door, next to the side yard where the coop would have to go. Chickens were legal in the city now, but for sure she’d find something to call the code department about.

            Not anymore, though. She’d just sold the house to a nice young man, our best neighbor so far, even coincidentally related to a dear friend of mine.

            The pandemic was a great excuse to stay home, my favorite place. Sure, I could mask up and go places. But I could at least pretend I was absolutely stuck at home. I could pretend I couldn’t go out for hardware and materials. It would be a challenge to use what I already had on hand, starting now, with the virus’s arrival on the scene. An odd challenge, maybe—but exactly the kind that appealed to me.

Watercolor by Tucson artist/musician Al Perry

            You might be thinking my property is a hoarder’s junk yard. It isn’t! Most of it’s pretty, with desert landscaping, flowers guarded by spines and thorns. Yes, I’ve collected a bit of junk out back, and some in the side yard facing the ogre’s former house but concealed by a solid fence I had made so she couldn’t see it.

            The idea was to make the coop out of spent cooler pads. How many years had I been storing those salt-encrusted blocks, no good any more for use in the rooftop cooler that made our house livable in the summer? Once I realized that the corrugated cardboard structure of the pads was perfect for accepting and grabbing mud, I couldn’t throw them away in the fall. What friend was it?—who had made a nice “adobe” bench out of a couple of crusty pads plastered with mud. I had saved about seven years’ worth of them—stacked against the east wall of the house, where they functioned as insulation while they sat there, thanks to their many little air pockets.

            It occurred to me that the big air pocket of a chicken coop interior would insulate the wall—that room of my house—just as well.

            Yeah. The stack of pads called out to be a wall. The whole pandemic stretched out ahead of me. And it looked like I might have the basic materials for building a coop: these cooler pads and the mud that I’d smear over them, making them look like that friend’s bench—like gorgeous adobe walls. In this part of the country, the smooth curves of genuine old mud buildings were a valued aesthetic.

            Out back I found five crumpled old pieces of tin that would probably work for a roof if I banged them out flat and filled the random holes in them that had been made by someone, somewhere, years ago.

            Would I really be able to do this without leaving home?

            I had never built with cooler pads, but I’d built a one-room casita in the back yard using mud and salvaged adobes. (That’s another story.) So I knew the feel of silky mud running through my fingers and the seashell-like sound of a new space where the wall has turned a corner and created it. I couldn’t wait to get started.

            Unfortunately, the side yard where I wanted to build was occupied at present by a family of squirrels.  I knew about them from their telltale holes, the kind you can sprain your ankle in.

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