The Thing About Chickens

I have a reminder set on my computer that alerts me once a month to write a piece for my blog. I enjoy writing and I hope that someone enjoys reading what I write, but like with so many things in our busy world several months can go by with no creative words before I even know it. So I use the reminder tool and hope that I don’t need it. Usually that is the case. Lately though I have been ignoring the reminder, clicking ‘tomorrow’ each day because though I feel like I have a lot of things to say, somehow I can’t bring myself to say them.

I want to write about chickens and dogs, about minor annoyances, and growth moments but for the last few months I have been inundated with a crippling sorrow. It starts everyday with politics when I wake, what awful thing now, what absurdity, what offense – there are too many to comprehend it seems. Then it was the hurricanes, one after another this summer and fall, and Puerto Rico – my God if we can’t act because something happens somewhere else what stops us here where they are our own. I am embarrassed and ashamed and can do nothing. And then the shooting, and then the skies where I lived filled with smoke, and my home town was burning up and how do I write about a problem that is funny but not a problem when I can barely breathe and my lungs are burning and my heart is breaking.

I don’t write because I have nothing to say. Instead I stay quite. I go to work. I provide support where I can. I pray. It’s not enough but I am blissfully stuck, relatively safe, fed, housed, clothed. Grateful.

So today I will write about the chickens because they help me to stay grounded, that is connected to the earth when I feel entirely untethered and helpless.

This summer my husband and son spent two weeks building a magnificent home for the girls. The coop itself is a six bird palace with room for me to stand upright, the fox-safe run expands their square footage by a factor of 3. If we were running a factory farm we could squeeze a hundred birds in there, if we just wanted “cage free” I could have twenty. Instead I have five and I don’t know that they appreciate the roominess of their home. No that’s not true, I know they don’t appreciate the roominess because every morning at least three of the girls are at the corner that looks down the hill to house loudly expressing their displeasure with being imprisoned.

The dogs get the first few hours in the morning, then I go up and free the captives. We are still on exclusive species time in the yard due to Apricot’s tendency to chew on the birds. I come to the door and there is always loud and vigorous clucking. Most of the time I come with an offering of produce leavings from dinner prep the night before. If I don’t have that I have to scramble for treats because an offering is expected after a night of captivity. The girls are generally polite when I open the door, they hop out one at a time, almost always in the same order, Sheila first, followed by Pearl, then Diamond and Pope, Sheena frets in the coop until I come in and then she leaves as well.

They get the yard for most of the afternoon and rotate between the lemon tree and sitting in the pots on the deck. Sometimes I find them perched on the deck railing or in the spindly corta madera. We have had a couple of attempts to make entry into the house but so far the dogs seem to be vigorously opposed.

At some point in the day, either when I let them out in the morning or in the evening when it is time to go to bed I clean the coop. I think it is nicer when it is tidy, so I assume they like that too. Spot clean the floor, change the bedding, check food water and treats. When I am in the coop the world is very simple. Danger is immediate, not existential. Happiness is based on what is in front of you, not what could be. One of the girls likes to be pet so she comes close and squawks until I pet her – she’ll lie down on the ground or climb into my lap making a contented clucking sound. She seems to be teaching one of the younger girls that this is a good thing so now there is a line for loves. It calms me down to focus on basics, and it gives me hope for harmony when the cat cruises into the coop to share a little chicken feed next to a bird on a warm fall afternoon.

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