Most of our chickens don’t have a name because we can’t tell them apart anyway. The ones that Boy two likes are the exception. There was Tail-less, now there is Queenie and Obsidian. Spontaneously, I started calling our dying chicken on the porch, Frieda.
Frieda took so long to die that I began to think she would live. Why she died is still a question. Best available wisdom suggests a raccoon injury, cancer, or that she became egg bound. Last year, when paranoia about microbial invasions on the farm overwhelmed me, we had a post mortem done on a chicken. For $60, I learned that the alive but ailing chicken I delivered had a bad case of arthritis in her knees and would have suited the dinner table just fine. I calmed myself by pretending we were intentionally seeking education rather than paying money to contaminate our chicken so that we could no longer eat it. Whatever Frieda died of, I don’t think it was contagious, so no post mortem for her, and no pricey education for me.
Waiting for Frieda to die stressed me. She didn’t seem miserable. When I expected her dead in the morning, she woke up hungry. By that night though she wanted neither food or water. The smell of death and bowel dysfunction made the air a bit thicker than I like it. I put her out in the grass the next day to get rid of the smell, and because if I was going to die soon, a patch of lawn in the sunshine would be just about right.
There is a whole field of psychology devoted to the notion that the further we distance ourselves from nature, the more unhealthy we become. I know everybody can’t have a farm, or even a pet, but I do believe we innately crave connection with living things. That we need to be reminded of real things. I didn’t kill Frieda myself because I didn’t know if she was suffering and because head removal is our method of chicken dispensing. Although I’ve done it many times, every time it surprises me a bit what a physical act it is.
I like that my kids have seem things die. Not because I want them sad, but because I want them to know that nothing dies for free. I obviously take no issue with eating meat, but I care a lot about quality of life, basic consideration and avoiding needless loss.
As living things ourselves, the strand of spider’s web we hang by is fragile. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I guess I hope that a little kindness for a dying chicken teaches my kids a few things that don’t have to be spelled out. Like, be compassionate, even if someone really, really stinks. Do what you can to make them comfortable and say a few kind words. It might not change the world, but it might make us just a little bit more human.
Three kids going on field trips in two different directions and a fourth with a project that didn’t save properly on the computer so is being redone this morning. Much cheerleading and organizational aid required. No time to tidy up the last sentences of the piece I had prepared. So have a nice day.
p.s. Boy one is showing his artsy side for this project (a self-dubbed voice/trombone duet to round out a French project
The snapping turtles are laying eggs again. It’s hard not to admire them, hauling their soggy selves up out of their primordial worlds to the warmed up gravel beside black roads. I counted twelve along a stretch of road one evening. I find it all strangely hopeful.
Not that I can’t see. The roads are bad for them. A lot of the females die crossing them at night. The general population suffers greatly from too many roads. But I can’t help it, seeing them gives me hope. I’m running around my life trying to do it right, and there they are, hauling their hefty selves one deliberate step at a time. They’re not attractive, they’re twenty pounds of turtle with fat mouldy toes, algae growing all over their shells and strings of seaweed dripping off them like hair. With speed as a non-consideration, they find their spot, hunker down, claw some gravel, lay 25 – 80 eggs, and cover them up.
Then they saunter back to whatever swamp they crawled out of. According to their own census last year, 98% of them ranked the following as, “no concern:”
*Number of microbial creatures harmful or otherwise invading my person
*Quality of motherly care as compared to others
*Chances of survival
*Progeny success potential
*Birth rate (despite survival rate of roughly 1 in 100 eggs laid)
*Color coordination of algae, seaweed, and shell
*Distance to road (***this is obviously a weakness that I wish they would worry about . . . but lack of worry in general may still prove a key to their ability to survive across time and in all kinds of habitats. Maybe National Geographic knows.)
If they survive the roads, turtles typically live 30 -50 years. As a species, they’ve been around a very long time. I don’t know how to justify how much they amaze me and amuse me, but I slow down for turtles, I watch for them everywhere I go. They’re so simple. So boring. So good at plodding. Reading specifically about snapping turtles, I learned they can go days without food or water. Females can hold sperm in their bodies for years, so no need to rush out for a man every year. They can walk ten miles to find a good place to lay their eggs. No anxiety ridden rushing around, just one step at a time.
Turtles remind me of Horton the elephant, from Dr. Seuss. They don’t appear to have a lot going for them, but they survive by faithfully doing what they know. And they do it without a whole lot of fanfare. They keep it simple and I like that. There’s a wisdom to their tiny brains that’s quite remarkable. They’re worth slowing down to watch and think about.
Yesterdays sorrows and triumphs were small. With all the farm work recently, the house has been sorely neglected. A missing book loaned by a friend (who had herself borrowed it from a library), tipped the scales to desperation and I hit the sorting and cleaning with a will. Everywhere I turned things needed doing. Some discoveries were too terrifying to detail. – Let’s just say that the night I was sure I smelled toilet like items originating from a cat and then decided it was all in my head, well, I was right the first time. – I vacuumed, mopped, cleaned bathrooms, culled bookshelves and went through almost endless piles of papers.
For other small triumphs, all twelve lambs are doing great. The bottle guys are down to three feedings a day, soon to be two. All of them are energetic and growing like weeds. Speaking of which, the lowly pricker bush is our big winner this year, bested in number by the dandelion, but hated so much more deeply that it wins for worst weed thus far.
In poultry, the meat chicks are also doing well. Three more weeks before their life insurance plans run out. Unfortunately, we have a wounded chicken from the layers. I haven’t figured out what happened yet. The skin underneath her was torn by something. Recovery does not seem possible. Madam is on the porch in a blue tub where the other chickens won’t bother her and we are keeping her hydrated. Sprouts from the desert wildflower seeds are hopefully providing a bit of ambiance on the table beside her. As well, we have the candles and a cross on the doughboy by the couch for when the porch serves as our makeshift family chapel, so really, Madam should have everything she needs for this life and the next.
But back to house sorting . . . after seven hours of taking things from where they were and putting them where they go, the book was found! I had already given up, deciding that a donation to the library was preferable to further fruitless searching, when lo and behold, it’s little green cover appeared. An inordinate amount of satisfaction rose up in me and smugly remained. I laughed at myself but the laughter did not diminish contentment even slightly. Some days the simple things suffice.
Helen Keller described my life at present pretty well.
Thank you, Ms. Keller.
Perhaps all of life is a book of small instructions. We “finished” putting in the garden on Monday, so I’ve got the seeds chapter on my mind. Seeds end up in the dark. In grit and damp they grow roots down and send shoots up. Reach for the light, the chapter says. You need it. Despite the darkness, spread roots of you into the deeps of unknown. Somewhere, there will be water. No telling which direction or how far. Put out your roots knowing some will find little but trusting enough will be found. Meanwhile, aim for the sun. Getting up into the brightness is easier said than done, of course, but it’s the point of everything.
There is a lot I don’t know right now. Especially about writing, but about also about things with the kids, the summer, next year. The future will undoubtedly come, but it is as yet a stranger. Some days I have dreams the size of the sky, other days I plod along with the watering can, and weed without particular belief that whatever crests the dirt will be something I hoped for or simply something that grew.
Girl one’s eyes are haunting me right now. She’s been off in tears at my disapproval more than once in twenty-four hours. No good reason really. She gets out of bed too many times because she can’t sleep. Her sister fell over, seeming to indicate a violent attack, they both say now that Girl one was just standing there. The only days she has really been ready for school on time were when I was teaching and she was still in utero. Toothbrushes, clothes and book bags stand idly by, while Girl one can focus on nothing except her own magical, floating thoughts. All morning, every morning. So the opposite of Amen for me.
Her eyes beg the question of what I’m planting. A glimpse if I’ll take it, of what I don’t want. And a chance to aim for something else. Seeds of realization and longing plant themselves in me. I don’t know whether to water them or let them die. It is courage I lack, not desire.
Two things are true. One: the essence of a person’s nature doesn’t change much over a lifetime. Two: if a butterfly wing flutter can cause a typhoon halfway around the world, then seemingly infinitesimal choices in a person can surely effect all the change in the world.
Girl one confounds. She also delights me beyond words. I both wade in to reprogram the alligators, and watch admiringly from a distance at the strokes she’s taught them. When I don’t want to tear my hair, she inspires me. (She does after all befriend alligators.)
Seeds start out smaller than what they become. Sometimes smooth, sometimes awkward rootish things, they grow into something you can’t see when they’re planted. Sometimes they die unrealized. Sometimes they come out spindly and break in the wind. Sometimes though, they grow up and down, an invisible promise fulfilled and dripping with beans.
For my alligator girl, I’ll give it a whirl.
She’s on a bit of a roll. Yesterday she passed me doing dishes to say that she had an especially good lesson planned for the school she runs. (She has been principal and main teacher of her own school for a few years now. She runs it for her sister or whatever younger children she can find at school. There are folders, plans, supplies . . . it is a very serious affair.) It’s on David and Goliath, she provided, but I didn’t pay much attention as she went by.
My husband pointed out a little later that Girl one’s student (Girl two) was currently with vigour, slinging rocks at a picture of Goliath.
I have a very bad case of Town Avoidance Disorder. We have no applesauce. We are out of potatoes. And onions. And fruit. We have two bags of frozen vegetables left in the freezer. When we’re out of flour or milk I call my husband and ask him to pick it up. Oh and some cheese. You’re out anyway. Do you mind?
I hate town. I hate stores. I’m ok with restaurants if they have real food because I like people asking me what I want, giving it to me and cleaning up afterwards. Stores have too many things. Towns have too many stores.
I like one grocery store, one clothing store, one hardware store . . . you get the idea. My really favorite idea is to only use the general store three miles down the road. I dream about giving them a list of my essentials (whole wheat flour, macaroni noodles, canned peaches in fruit juice . . .) and only ever going there. Ever. It is a beautiful dream. The owners are in their eighties and are trying to sell. Their fiftyish daughters are keeping the place going until then.
Change like this irritates me. Despite the cost, I buy gas there pretty often because it isn’t in town. I pump my own where they can’t even see me from the window, then go in and tell them how much I owe them. Why are they selling? What is wrong with eighty year olds these days?
Then there is Sears. I picked Sears as my store for things I can’t get second hand. I have gotten used to them and I like their socks. Children can wear them until they lose them. No spontaneous dismemberment at three weeks. Recently, I heard that Sears Canada is changing? closing? I don’t remember the details, but I didn’t like it. I don’t know who to make my store if they leave. It is too hard to think about, so I won’t. Since I go there at least three times a year, they may forget to contact me when the doors finally shut. If they remember me it’s because the clerks think I speak in tongues. No thank you, I say to always offered Sears card. Slowly I explain that paying in cash means you only spend what you actually have. This causes a lot of blinking and polite laughter, kind of how you treat nice crazy people.
I could find town interesting like a museum if I could get past not wanting to be in a car. Going to town means doing nothing for a lot of minutes in a row. What did you do this morning? I went to town. What did you get? Groceries.
That’s it? Two hours for one word on a list? Plus the air does not breathe right in those towns. Going to town is very, highly, extremely, unsatisfying. (Unless I’m having a stand-up-to- excessive-descriptor-words day, then it is merely unpleasant.)