Sunday, May 4, 2008

Helicopters, saw blades and chickens -- oh my!

A few weeks ago we had a message on the answerphone from our electric cooperative. They were going to have work crews in our area at the end of April and early May trimming trees along the power lines with a helicopter. Please call if we had livestock or other concerns. So I called.

Talked with a woman at the co-op about my concern for our chickens and possibly the sheep. They don't like loud motorcycles on the county road out front and the roos have a fit when the ultralights are flying in the 300-acre field behind the house. No vivid imagination required to consider how they might react to a helicopter with a massive chainsaw hovering nearby.

Explained that if we knew when they were going to be near us, we'd move the livestock or otherwise take action to assure they wouldn't freak. She couldn't tell me the schedule said she'd check with the other department and call back. She left another message later that day to say they weren't going to be "in our area" after all -- the original message was distributed to customers in several counties as a precaution and didn't apply to us.

So last Thursday we're all going about our usual morning chores. DH was mowing and DS was searching for just the right anthill from which to stock his ant farm and I was hanging laundry on the line. Kept hearing this drone off in the distance -- sounded like the ultralights but I couldn't see one. They're colorful and usually easy to spot. Plus it was a weekday and they only turn up on weekends or holidays for the most part.

Suddenly DS comes tearing through the house and into the backyard shouting that Dad wants me to "come quick." Coming in low, directly over the chickens in the electronet, is a helicopter loaded down with a 15-, 20-foot saw hanging by a cable. It's the tree-trimming helicopter that wouldn't be near us.

DH went inside and called the electric co-op to find out what was going on -- for one thing we don't even have any overhead utility lines on our property so why come directly overhead like that? Earlier information notwithstanding, it turned out they would be right next door where the lines run along our neighbors' driveway. DS was ecstatic. DH and I were worried.

The site manager pulled into our driveway minutes after DH got off the phone with the co-op manager. Apologies for misinformation were extended and he offered to stand by to catch escaping chickens if needed. Apparently the helicopter's earlier foray overhead was part of the wide arc it swings when leaving one spot and moving to the next. They'd give us an hour or two to get ready and then they'd come by right after lunch to trim the nearby trees.

DS had wanted to drive out in the county to see the helicopter at work ever since he'd heard the original phone message. Now he had his chance up close. We coaxed the chickens in with some popcorn and apple peels and prepared to watch the show.

The helicopter came in for three passes at trees near the power lines farther up the road. Then it came in close for the trees on the other side of the neighbors' driveway. Very impressive. When it moved farther into the neighbors' property I went to check on the chickens and DH and DS followed the work with binoculars.

The excitement ended when the crew moved on to the next site. The sheep came out of the barn to look around and the chickens settled down. DS began pulling books about helicopters from the shelves and listing related topics he wants to research at the library. Everything went back to normal on a warm May afternoon.

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