May 2006

Chicken Pastorale


We are having a love affair with our chicks. It began when we picked them up at the feed store the week after Easter. They were truly little balls of fluff then, and they lived quite cosily in the corner of our kitchen in the woodbox. Their world was the straw beneath their feet, the wooden walls, the warmth of the lights and each other, food and water and the occasional cuddling from us….and the news and music from the kitchen radio, I suppose!

They are now five weeks old and have graduated to a larger wooden box on the porch. At night and in the early morning they still know only straw and wood and warmth, but every morning we take them to their outdoor pavilion in the garden. This is made of chicken wire and t-bars and the slipcovers that I made for our kitchen sofa a few years ago. The pale blue floral sheets I made them from were so inexpensive that I feel I can justify making new ones this year and so gladly gave them up for the chicks comfort. In the shade of the sheets they peck in the grass and take long, delightful dust baths in the dirt. They are so charming when they do this….they lay on their sides and flick the dust up through their feathers with their wings. They sometimes seem to nod off whilst reclining and remind me of myself in a hot bath. We could watch them by the hour, but have to tear ourselves away often. Their little peeps are so soothing.

I was by myself this evening when it was time to bring the chicks in for the night. Usually, we each bring one or two in…..held next to our chests or sometimes perched on our shoulders like a pirate’s parrot. I took a sheet-lined laundry basket to the pavilion and gently plucked up one chick after another and put them in the basket with the end of the sheet folded over the top. A quick trip to the porch and this is what I found when I lifted off the sheet.

I let them explore the porch a bit while I put some freshly-cut hay in their wooden home and fresh water and food. They are always so curious, craning their necks to peer here and there and fluttering up on things. Some have bold personalities, some are more retiring, but each one is an honor to know.

I cannot help but think about the chickens whose lives are cruelly opposite those of our chicks. Who are crammed five at a time into wire cages and never know the light of day or feel of the earth under their feet or experience the pleasure of a dust bath. We receive most of our eggs from our older flock of chickens…..eggs that are pale brown and light blue and deep brown. Local farms where the chickens live a good life are your best source of eggs. If you can’t find such a farm, organic eggs from the grocery store are the next best option. The hens often don’t get to be outside, but they are not put in cages and are allowed to socialize. And if you eat chicken, I encourage you to seek out humanely-raised chicken. It is out there, and groceries who don’t carry it may do so if you request it. Organic milk is available almost everywhere now because people demanded it and the same can happen with eggs and meat if we all care enough to ask. Please email me if you need any help with more information on how chickens are raised in factory farms or how to find alternatives.

This is one of the chicks, perched on the porch sofa, not quite ready to go into roomy box for the night…..just like any young thing. But in the box she is, surrounded by her sister ( we hope! ) chicks. They keep each other warm if the night gets cool and fill the dark porch with their gentle murmurings. It makes me remember my seventeen-year-old son’s favorite poem years ago….

Elizabeth Madox Roberts

The night was coming very fast;
It reached the gate as I ran past.

The pigeons had gone to the tower of the church
And all the hens were on their perch,

Up in the barn, and I thought I heard
A piece of a little purring word.

I stopped inside, waiting and staying,
To try to hear what the hens were saying.

They were asking something, that was plain,
Asking it over and over again.

One of them moved and turned around,
Her feathers made a ruffled sound,

A ruffled sound, like a bushful of birds,
And she said her little asking words.

She pushed her head close into her wing,
But nothing answered anything.



Because Glenn asked.

When I came home from my show last weekend, as the sun was setting, my first sight was the green, green fields….and our little house placed amongst them. I rolled down the window of my car and let in the breeze, which smelt of honeysuckle. Then down the bumpy, dusty drive…to a stop in front of the brick walk. Next I saw the front door open and our very loving and silly Vizsla dog came bounding down the stairs and towards my car, and I had to protect myself from his enthusiastic welcome! Better still was the sight of my sons, also coming down the stairs and to the car to welcome me….but with gentle hugs and kisses. I went inside and found a tidy house and the smell of supper cooking-lovely husband! Toast and a salad with fresh, beautiful organic lettuce and greens from our dear friends’ market garden. The kitchen was festive with flowers and home-made Mother’s Day cards awaiting me at the table…and the sweet peeps of the month-old chicks in their temporary home in one corner. We ended up by the crackling fire in the living room, eating and talking about what had happened during our days apart.

These are the sorts of hours that I count as the best of all…..and I hope that they make up for all that we don’t do as a family. You know the amazing trips/competitions/service projects/projects of all kinds/grand important things that we all aspire to and some actually accomplish? I don’t often live up to all my dreams of these good possibilities, but I do know that we are managing the little important things fairly well and I am grateful for that.

Today was one of those days full of small, good happenings. I took a walk by myself this morning, before breakfast, and drank in the waving green and gold fields and the scent of the honeysuckle and the blackberry blossoms.We had a long history -reading on the front steps, steeping ourselves in the sunshine and the writers and artists of the 1840s-1860s ( near the end of A History of US by Joy Hakim-book 5 “Liberty for All?”). The boys did their independent studies and I made various things for some web orders. Then lunch on the porch and laundry….and more making of things. I baked a nutmeggy yellow cake late in the afternoon and we had it with organic strawberries and cream-for supper! We ate it outside in the grass, with the last of the sun, while we watched our young chicks enjoy a few final outdoor moments before we brought them inside. After we all checked our email and cleaned up a very little bit, we watched “Little Women” with a fire in the hearth. I have been wanting to share this with my sons for so long….but was always waiting for the right moment. I knew it would be tonight, when we read about Thoreau and Emerson and Louisa May Alcott on the porch this morning. And it was gratifying to watch them smile in all the right places.