February Hedge a gram

     Happy February!  This is Jan Brett and my hedge a gram - a monthly report named after one of my favorite characters, Hedgie the hedgehog.  We have had three hedgehogs and have enjoyed them very much.  Right now our pets are chickens and ducks.  Since it's been an unusually cold and snowy winter, they are all having to adapt to being inside.  Even though they have pop hatches - little doors just their size to go out into their outdoor pen, the chickens opt for staying inside.  Their outside pen has a roof, but snow blows inside through the hardware cloth, and they do not like to walk through the snow.  The ducks mostly swim in their pond which stays open because it has running water.  On the coldest nights when it gets below 20 degrees, I herd the ducks into the chicken house where the good flyers roost on the rafters and the older and chubbier ducks share one of the chicken pens that has a very friendly silkie rooster and silkie hens in it.  The poultry do interact more with me in winter because I come in with treats so they don't get bored.  The favorite treat is mealie worms, followed by hard cooked eggs, followed by sunflower seeds and last but not least their their veggies, kale and lettuce.  My polish pullets (a pullet is a female) have learned to jump up on the rail of their pen so I will carry them out to a special outside pen whose roof is covered with 8" of snow.  The snow keeps it so warm that water doesn't freeze in their drinkers.  They dig giant holes in their bedding looking for insects.  Sometimes with all the excitement of digging they will bury one of their eggs and I will have to dig around looking for it.  Once I was doing this at night and I noticed little red fiery bits in the soil like coals from a fire.  I picked them up before I realized they were probably spiders whose red eyes glowed in the dark!    I learned about glowing spider eyes when we were in Costa Rica getting ideas for my book THE UMBRELLA.    On a night walk our guide would point to a round hole in a dirt bank.  When we looked in, a large tarantula would come charging out in threat mode, all of his or her red eyes glowing.  Those were very big spiders.
     When I'm not looking after my poultry I have the wild birds that flock outside my studio window to watch.  What has brought a lot of them in during the cold of winter is the heated birdbath, and a kind of suet that has insects embedded in it.  Our most colorful birds are the cardinals and bluebirds -- the red and blue really pop against the white snow.  The mourning doves have more subtle shades and are just as beautiful in a delicate way, and the woodpeckers, a red bellied, and a flicker dazzle with their stripes and spots.
     I am finishing the last spread of THE EASTER EGG and have finished the jacket.  It's been some time since I've seen a bunny in our yard, but I definitely see rabbit tracks along with squirrel and fox footprints.  One the weather breaks, we'll start to see raccoon and opossum footprints.  The opossum gives itself away because it draws its rope-like trail behind him and it leaves a drag mark.
     We are about to leave on a trip to Africa to create the background for my 2010 fall book, THE THREE LITTLE MAPIGNI.  I'll buy a few books in Africa, especially books featuring the Herero people.  When I'm in Namibia I'll try to find the beautiful printed cotton cloth they use for women and girl's dresses.  Its unique and I don't think I could remember the patterns well enough to do them justice.  I'll be taking photos of the hyraxes, which are also called rock dassies and mapigni.  Since they will be the main character of my book, I'll need to get to know them quite well so I can create the appropriate expressions.  They look a bit like koala bears, with soft grey fur and lighter tufts of fur around their cheeks and ears.  Like koala they have a droll expression.  Luckily for me my friend who takes care of my chickens and ducks will email me messages on how everyone is doing back home.  Then I don't get too homesick!  I like to think a new book is being hatched and traveling to Namibia will be a revealing first step.  Although, it is a strange feeling to be surrounded by sand dunes covered with weirdly beautiful and poisonous euphoria bushes in the heat and think of New England covered in snow.  I'll be sure to put some photos of Africa up on my March Hedge a gram.
     Happy creating, reading and especially drawing.
                                   Your friend,

                                     Jan Brett