The Contented Chicken Sound

The little punkins don’t even SOUND like chicks anymore.  As they walk around the backyard, being healthy and only eating superfoods (no saturated fats or simple sugars – we monitor this closely), they make this contemplative, contented-yet-focused chicken sound.  Similar to the “brrrk, brrrrk, brrrk” that you’d expect to hear them make, cuz we’ve all heard them, (or, if you haven’t heard one,  the sound that the american television viewing experience slant movie cinema experience has provided us with – a soundtrack that goes with chickens).  It’s a much richer sound than even I remembered.  I can tell they are sucking the marrow out of the bones of life – truly a vision of Carpe Diem.  The carpe that Robin Williams talked about in the movie; that feeling he urged students to not just embrace but to truly ingest and then wear as a life song.

Yeah, so the chickens are happy, that’s my point.   They love to wander around the yard, even when the dog is out.  Some of you may have heard about our sheltie, Kenzie.  Rest assured we were out there with all the animals so there was no danger (no animals were harmed in the telling of this story)!  However, the scene opens with Kenzie contenting himself with sniffing their butts for a long time.  He would periodically look up at me or Ang and act like he was just walking around and happened to be in the vicinity of, lo and behold, these bird-things.  As in, “Officer, I had NO IDEA that I was exceeding the speed limit! Gosh, I’m so sorry!”, or “Officer, those are NOT MY EARRINGS, I have NO IDEA how they got into my purse! You say they still have the Claire’s tags on them? that is SO weird!”, or “Officer, he started this with his angry words – I was just walking by minding my own business”.  Kenzie is all like, “Oh, gosh, I am surprised that these bird-things are right next to me; I was just walking around the yard like I ALWAYS do”.

So after several minutes of trailing them sniffing he got the urge to start gumming them.  Yes, gumming them.  Like a hunting dog does with a bird that it recovers from the heavy brush.  I once looked over and saw a chicken cowering, fully on her tummy, and Kenzie pushing it into the ground with his nose.  “Give me your lunch money, punk, or I’ll make it so you don’t eat for a week!”.  One word from me and he was all, “Gosh, what a great time to call for me; I was just about to head over to you and put my nose on your knee.  Great idea!”  And little miss chicken walked away unscathed.  As a matter of fact, in the whole scheme of things, the lawn mower scares them WAY more than the dog does.

We use our little bamboo sticks to herd them back into their coop.  Ang worked up a sweat the other day – they got pretty comfortable out of the coop, and just plain didn’t want to go back in.  (never end a sentence with a preposition)  Today, their hearts weren’t in it, so when I “bambooed” them back in, they were fine with it.  Like a baby that finally lets him/herself be laid down for a nap.

Sometimes it’s safer in the coop, no matter how confident you are in the world.

Fresh Hay

Our son Jacob graduated from high school this past weekend.  We had a bunch of family come visit, and a TON of well-wishers for the party on Saturday night.  He and a buddy did most of the inviting, and Ang and I asked a few people over who both knew and cared for Jacob over the years.

I wish I would have made time to put fresh hay in the coop.  It would have smelled better, and been a better presentation of our young flock.  As it happened, I put fresh hay in their coop two days after the big party; oh, they were so satisfied!  They nestled down into it, they scritched around in it, they tugged it around, and they slept in it.  Complete.  That’s all it takes to complete them.

A little fresh hay.

Visitors surprised me with their interest in a chicken coop tour.  I laughed, kind of like this:  “ha, ha! Sure, we can go look at the chickens”.  Then I used my ‘engaging’ smile and we walked out to the part of the yard where we’d built the coop.  As I refined my ‘tour guide’ routine, I realized that these little yard animals were as much a part of Jacob’s growing up as they are ours.  I admit they are ‘background’ for him, but the reality of pets as stage dressing is undeniable for all three of our kids.  Here’s what I mean, cuz it doesn’t sound clear to me either.

I used the sandbox (that Jacob, Ethan, and Cassidy all played in during their growing-up years – they flooded it at LEAST once a week for many summers) as the ground level of the chicken coop.  It was mainly ( I thought) a money-saving move, but I realize now that the sandbox lives on for us.  It had outlived its use as a sandbox, but I couldn’t bear to part with it.  That’s one of the reasons it is so comforting to go sit and watch the chickens.  I can relive my little kids growing from tiny punkins to grown ups.  Every flooding of that sandbox (I am SO glad we didn’t forbid them doing that) rushes back when I notice a water stain in the wood of the chicken coop.  Every sandcastle (although they were more partial to mudpies) rebuilds itself (at least in my mind’s eye) when I see dirt scritched up against the frame by our chickens.

Solace, solitude, reflection, examination, healing, hoping, dreaming.  They all happen.

Just cuz of a few little baby chicks.

After The Storm

Our Garden

Never a more perfect time to spring the girls from the clink than after the tornado sirens stopped wailing this afternoon.  I spent the alert over at the airport terminal basement, waiting for the horror movie to start in that dank, drafty, people-packed, adrenaline-tinged space.  It was like Titanic where all the exits are blocked by a fence or gate; freedom visible but unattainable.  It really was fine, but had possibilities for trouble.

By the time I got home, the sun was bright in the late afternoon sky, the chickens were done cowering in the roost boxes, and they weren’t that impressed with the cast-off spinach leaves I dumped in their coop.  I went to get Ang and we decided today was a perfect day to let them out.

“Error saving media file”.  That’s why you don’t see the riveting video of them stepping first gingerly, then carefully, then gleefully around the backyard.  That is 4 minutes of your life that I saved you; you are welcome.  Ah, but someday, you will be forced to watch them walk around the backyard.  Just count on it.

Herding them back into the coop with our two bamboo sticks made me feel very Asian, as in taking ducks to the market which is a day’s walk from my home village where my people have lived for 5 generations and raised rice in paddies.  Just read “This Good Earth”, by Pearl Buck, you’ll know what I mean.

The sun always shines after the storm, doesn’t it?

Our Recalcitrant Jalapeno

Green, Green Grass

Yeah, so I went out to feed our little dudes like I do every day, and when I opened the coop door, there was a long tuft of grass that stuck up and into the coop.  Oh, my gosh; you’d think they were thirsty football fans that had just sighted a cooler of Uncle Bud!  They practically DOVE at that grass; and I’m not talking about a little neck lunge or a general lean in the direction of the nacho tray.  I am saying it was like there was one LAST piece of fudge on the Christmas tray, you just saw it, and there were three portly people in your way who deserved the fudge less than YOU did.  They LUNGED.

Well, revelation set in.  I left the door half open and kept my body in the open part of the door (more so Kenzie couldn’t eat any chicken fricassee than I was scared they would get out into the yard)  You would think a toothless bird would have trouble tearing strips of grass out of the ground, much less swallowing it – some of the blades of grass (with apologies to Walt Whitman) were three inches long.  (I hadn’t mowed that part of the yard yet).

They are a genetically designed grass havoc machine.  I watched that stuff disappear down their gullets like the Lady and the Tramp demolished that spaghetti in that alley on the fruit box.  Seriously – I still think of those little dinosaurs that were chicken-size in Jurassic Park.  Our little chickens are truly a miracle of design; chicken feed doesn’t give them the challenge they deserve.  I haven’t let them out yet only because we want to record their first trip out so you all can see it.  We’ve figured out actual jpeg and mpeg transfer; yes, I know how to do that now.  All that remains is me, Ang, the camera, and a decent time to let them out to goof off.

Our little punkins are chicken-size now.  Their voices haven’t changed to a lower register – they still sound chick-y, but if you walked back there, you’d think “chickens”, not “chicks”.  No more fluff to be found.

Our garden is planted, and most of the plants appear to want to survive.  I’ve had several talks with the Jalapeno plant; I doubt his work ethic.  But we’ll see.  Jalapenos are a must and he’s gotta know he’s replaceable.  That matters to you because the chickens are gonna eat the bugs out of the garden.

If any dare show up.

Special Needs Chicken

We have a special needs chicken.  It is Steve.  I am not joking, nor am I making fun of anything related to special needs.  Many of you know me to have a wryly biting wit (meaning a “G” rated smart***), which, occasionally, turns snotty (when I’m tired or cranky or under pressure).  I’m not always proud of what I say out loud (because my words are rude, sometimes) and wish back some of my worst moments.  All that to say, this ‘special needs’ phrase I use with love.  Not sarcasm or ‘wry wit’.

Steve has a crooked beak.  We have a picture of him.  He is looking straight at the camera, and you can see his beak dives right, while his comb slopes left.  I noticed this a week or two ago, and have studied him since then.  He does a GREAT job of eating, and won’t have any problems getting nutrition into himself to make all those eggs.

But as I sit, on the bench, or on tuft of grass outside the cage, or even when I perch inside the gate on the frame of their coop, I get this rush of love for little old Steve.  He doesn’t fuss about having a crooked beak.  As a matter of fact, he is usually the first to investigate what we have in our hands, or what we throw down for them to scratch around with.  He leads the girls into their sleeping box (the farthest on the right).

This rush of love, though:

It’s not pity.  It’s not sympathy.  It’s not empathy.  I’m just so proud of him (her) when he’s doin’ his little chicken thing.  All those songs? About triumph in the face of adversity?  “Nobody’s gonna break my stride… Nobody’s gonna slow me down…”.  “We shall overcome…”.  (Many of you know of MY popular musical illiteracy, so I am sure there are a TON more songs that fit)

The other four girls accept and love Steve without reservation.  They happily follow him around the coop – pecking at apple cores, or destroying the little piles of feed (strategically placed there for my viewing pleasure), or scratching hay.  I used the pitchfork to remove the old hay and sawdust mix – threw that on the garden, and put new prairie hay down for them.  It smells fresh – and it is really fun to watch them in new bedding.  They’ll scritch – once with each claw – then hop back one step and peer intently at what they’ve uncovered.  You can just tell that this species has been doing this same move for centuries.  It works for them.

We are still thinking about letting them out of the coop and into the whole of our backyard.  My chicken magazine says they will leave our garden plants and flowers alone, and mostly pursue bugs.  Me?  I’m skeptical, but I guess all of life is full of risk.  Plus the upside is huge.  We get to sit and pretend not to follow every move they make as long as they are scritching and hopping.  THAT day is gonna be awesome.