Tag Archiv: life

People and Chickens

Christmas 14 Jan 15 226


Some people that I love are suffering. I find myself thinking about Huntington’s disease, dementia, and places where we become less than we were. Sometimes we are children growing in the wrong direction. Away from promise and potential into private worlds where possibilities shrink like the future, fall through our fingers like sand, and torn from us with insistent hands are scattered like chaff in the wind forever.

I like to watch chickens. In all their feather finery, they are a curious and going concern until they’re not. One day they run on three toed feet, an apple slice in their beak trying to dodge the flock of chickens in hot pursuit, one day they settle determined on a pile of eggs insisting that the other girls find somewhere else to lay, one day they dart past you out the door . . . and another day, they’re gone. Nothing but a pile of feathers waiting to be buried.

Chickens’ heads bob around at the end of their necks a lot like a person with muscle spasms. All of them do it and none of them care. If anything, they’re proud of it. Now and then it strikes me that chickens essentially invented break dancing (from the shoulders up). Yesterday I found myself stalled, watching chickens again. I’d dumped some scraps in the outside run to try and tempt them out into the fresh air and sunshine. A bold chicken and two flightier birds came curious about the scraps but not quite sure. In and out an inch, and in and out an inch, and in and out three inches then back to the end of the line. Chicken two gave a smaller try then ran to the end of the line and so on. Ten minutes I stood amused although they weren’t doing anything they don’t do every day. Nervous chickens (and they are all nervous) change their minds even more than nervous people.

I don’t know how watching them helped me. I remembered a sick chicken who no longer bobbed her head at all but still knew she was a chicken. The other chickens knew she was a chicken too.

I’m not sure what separates us from the chickens is as big a space as we’d like to think. Or maybe we do know. A microscopic hair’s breadth separates us, people from chickens, well people from sick people, and that’s what hurts. Watching people suffer who were us in another life, three or four seconds ago.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” wrote poet Dylan Thomas. But not everybody is handed the ability to rage toward nights gentle or otherwise. In a different poem, Thomas writes, “Though they go mad, they shall be sane, Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again; Though lovers be lost love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.”

Death shall have no dominion. I think the chickens know this.

A Peculiar Kind of Mercy

Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula: The Hubble View (NASA files)

I have a picture in my head of my parents, with my brother and me in an ocean. It is dark. Waves wash repeatedly over us. Our heads are in and out of the water gasping. We try to fight our way towards land. At last we feel a tremendous shove. My brother and I reach out, our fingers touch the rocks of an island and we are saved. We look back and our parents are washed away, their last best efforts spent pushing us to a shore they do not reach.

In my mind I see my own parents, yet I am coming to think the picture is simply a story of parents. Whatever our failures, we dream of our children safe on the land. Whatever our successes, we want them further than we got. A yearning for life programmed into our DNA.

It is July. Life on our little farm is at triple forte. Chickens lay eggs with abandon, contented and pleased with this year’s offering of bugs. Until recently, it was a good year for the raccoons. (Four caught now in defense of the chickens.) Buster the March calf is nonchalantly bursting at his seams. Thank goodness we don’t have to cloth him. Grass, trees, kids are sprouting every which way.

Life tenuous and tenacious sings. Beckons. The magnitude of things to be done, the tedium of little things, threaten to capsize us. Tired and overwhelmed, we are pulled back again by the longing to be part of the chorus.

In the space of a few days we trap raccoons that are too many and cut back a wagon load of hedges attempting to redefine our lawn. We spend hours in emergency rooms for a son that needs help to live and we buy medicine for an ailing lamb. Life strives incessantly to triumph against cessation. Dogged in its persistence, it is also surprising fragile.

On one side, life must be held at bay, contained for others and its own sake. On the other side, life must be coaxed, aided along for a bit by outside forces. With strength and frailty we stumble along leaning first to one side and then the other. We learn to admire the capacity of life. Respect the bandit faces in the darkness of the chicken coop. And we learn to walk tenderly, with an eye to the lamb who isn’t walking right, the little webs beginning in the corner of the branches of an apple tree, the stomach ache that isn’t getting better.

A mystery and a grand confusion. Only sometimes do we even know on which side of the line our efforts would yield the best results. Leave it to Mother Nature or stage an intervention? We try to know. But the picture is too big.

The impossibility of knowing betrays our smallness. Against the immensity, it begs the question. Is our smallness meant to drive us to madness (if so, it’s working) or does it offer a peculiar kind of mercy?

Of Mice and Men


Life on a farm subjects me to weather in ways that my previous life did not. Weather changes, dictates, sustains, destroys, and nourishes without consultation or apology. I like to make plans. But rested and ready to go, all hands on deck, and the rain is torrential. Exhausted, ready to drop, out of gas for the tractor, and the sun blazes warm, a breeze comes up and a long day is required. One year is not like another. One spring the lambs thrive, another old farmers shake their heads at all the losses.

Weather is just the tip of the iceberg, one little facet of the great untameable Mother Nature. I like the beauty, I hate the not knowing. Then again, that’s why we chose to have a farm. Things die that aren’t supposed to and cantaloupes sprout unbidden on a manure pile in the field. Ewes bred at the same time give birth two weeks apart, and unidentified living things, bugs and microbes, arrive constantly to help and harm. Out of control is amplified here to a decibel we cannot miss.

It makes me crazy. It keeps me sane. My husband and I have been discussing solutions to the latest fencing problems for weeks. After waiting out the weather, we finally thought we had it. Satisfied with our new barriers, we went in for lunch. By the time we’d finished eating, all the animals we separated were back together again. In the, “who’s in charge of the farm,” game, we had once again, underestimated the wits of our opponents.

Any step in any direction here reveals things that need doing. No matter how long we worked, there would still be more. It’s so far from my control that trying seems almost pointless. I hate that part.

Except when I let it baptize me.

When I walk by choice down the banks of desperate pretending, into the river of big, impossible, unending, unpredictable, uncertainty. When I let go of dry and the worry of what I’m not.  There, water over my head, something true touches me. I am no match for the seeming chaos. As threatening as that is, it is also a relief.

I am one person in a vast universe. A tiny part of a big picture. I don’t know what’s coming next. I couldn’t change it if I did. All kinds of seasons, physical, emotional, and spiritual, will come and go. Grass will grow and grass will die. I will rise each day and go about my business. Some days things will go as planned and other days not so much.

Holding tight on the banks, the fear of my smallness imprisons me. Baptized, it’s different. I’m a little mouse in a very large field, but I’m friends with the guy who owns the hawks.

I’ll forget and run for the banks again. But I’ll get baptized again too. Dripping and free, I’ll pitter patter around the field, come rain or shine.

On Mud


Winter doesn’t melt to green here, it melts to mud and lots of it. The creeks are high. Every low spot in every yard we pass is a temporary pond. It isn’t as pretty as the springs of my childhood. (Those were smorgasbords of colour and life, flowers falling over themselves to burst forth.) Here it is a smattering of hardy souls determined to see the light. The rest is newly thawed mud. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Nuances of brown with hints of grey and light green are home now.

Easter Sunday was cool, 13 C/55 F but apparently warm enough. After a day of feasting and celebration, we walked outside to find shirtless boys, and girls in shorts and tank tops. The sprinkler was set up on the edge of the pasture. It was 1/5 for sprinkling people and 4/5 for making more mud. Mud generously rubbed on chests, legs, and cheeks, sculpted, stirred, tossed and kicked.

The snow is gone except for the odd pockets hiding in the shade. Tulips and daffodils have sent word via healthy green stems that they are coming. Even the dogs are craving mud. Mud equals spring.

There is a lot of spring tracked through the house these days. I generally fail to bless its indoor apparitions. Outside I thrill to my first sight of clover in the grass and yearn for more, soon, more, please. I forget to bless the mud. To be patient with its secrets. Mud, brown and grey and black and dull. Mud with gravel, living things, dead things, and heaven knows what smeared through and growing in it. (Around here we have a pretty good idea some of the ingredients in the mud but best not to discuss since I’ve already said the children play in it).

No one gives gifts of mud. At least I’ve never gotten one. But in the mud of which I quickly tire, all the life I long for is preparing to green and grow and come forth. Plain old, nothing special mud. An eyesore, a removal chore, and the stuff of life. The birthplace of colors, beauty, food, and us, where only kids and dogs have the good sense to revel.

Guess I’ll put my window views to good use and ponder a bit more on mud today.

Song and Dance

Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I write, the children are upstairs dancing. Three of them. No reason. Out of the blue, one said, “I’m going to my room to dance. You guys want to come?”  I think our musicals kick off on Friday night has us feeling artsy. “Sound of Music,” was a huge hit. (Juvenile search for free, legal music to download has begun.) The singing/no speaking dinner was grand. We’ll do it again and give it time to develop. One was too shy. The others had a grand time. Five year old quite enjoyed her attempts at vibrato. A highly recommended activity, I say.

Maybe it’s a small thing to hear my child look up from reading a book and announce a desire to dance. It makes me happy. My own love of dance is hampered by the requirement to move my body without a plan. I remember going to a concert once. Nothing fashionable, just a marching band on a lawn. I loved it and I wanted to clap with the music. Most everyone else was. I was inside the sounds of trumpets and flutes, cymbals and drums, I wanted to be part of the song.

I don’t remember if I was eleven, twelve, thirteen . . . but I couldn’t do it. I pictured myself picking my hands up off my chair and putting them together, but I was too afraid to try. Not sure how to start. Worried that everyone else knew how to clap in time, but I might not.

Since that day, I have learned to clap to music when I want to. For a time, I could mostly line dance (thanks to help from anyone who would go over the simplest things with me just one more time). Line dancing had the beauty of set moves to follow, but that skill has gone the way of things.

My joyful dancing, the kind without a plan, has been with my children. I danced with them as babies when we were alone. Later my children began asking me to dance. About kids and dancing, I hold to the following to get me through the occasional requests to participate:

1. It matters more that they learn the freedom and joy of dance, than it matters that beyond the confines of my imagination and the walls of our home, I have known neither.

2. Along with remembering me taller and wiser than I am, their memories of whatever odd moves I may try to incorporate into my dancing have the potential to undergo similar distortions if I can just keep smiling.

The marvel of it grows in me. My children are upstairs dancing. For fun. Maybe I was faking it to get here, but my children love to dance. Watching them, I see the shadow of small miracles. Of these I can only say thank you. Bow softly. Wonder at such good gifts.



Great and small

We live on County road 21 for the joy of it, and in an attempt to stay grounded. Misty, the pony is giving us an education. The kids are surprised at how much fun taking care of a horse is not. At the same time, getting to know her has a kind of richness that we haven’t known before.

Anabelle, the cow, is turning into one very big momma. We had her bred with a Black Angus. He was the kind of husband that comes in a tube from a truck, so fairly low on the romance scale, but supposedly a great match for producing a nice calf with small shoulders. (Small shouldered offspring = every mother’s dream, I know.) Anabelle has done a nice job befriending Misty. They sleep together now. We put the sheep in at night on one side of the barn, which keeps them from becoming coyote food. We leave the stall on the other side open. Misty and Anabelle graze until dark, then put themselves to bed inside the barn.

The last round of chicks before spring finished their earthly sojourn this week. We wanted to give up on chickens after the last batch. This time, out of 33 chicks, we still had 30 when it was time to transition to the freezer. For the first few weeks, the chicks get a lot of care, and even more checking to make sure they have what they need. When it is time to get them out to the main coop, I always feel like I’m dropping off my kids at daycare. I’m fretful and unsettled. Back in the house I startle again and again worried I’ve forgotten something. But, it’s easier as time goes by.

Strangely, regardless of size and stage, we always call them the chicks. “Tomorrow’s the last day for the chicks, right?” we say solemnly about their five or six pound selves. It isn’t until they are in bags getting loaded into the freezer that we finally say, “good batch of chickens this time around, don’t you think?”

We are wondering if we want to get bees in the spring. We don’t know. We know that all this life – new, old, pregnant, happy, lonely but adjusting, hungry, content, human, bovine, equine, ovine, avian – even the homemade yogurt life. It keeps us learning. Keeps us wondering. It’s good for what ails us.