Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Feeding the Chickens

When we were young, my parents kept chickens. This was part of their feed-the-family-on-the-cheap (cheep? sorry) plan that I've touched on before. My father did manual labor at a nearby university and was able to get chicks each spring very inexpensively. These little chicks had been part of some kind of psychological experiment -- their heads were tipped to the side, the amount of time it took them to lift it back up was measured and then that was that for their contribution to mankind's trove of psychological knowledge. After that my father brought a few dozen of them home.

We put the chicks in a plastic wading pool in the living room at first and loved to watch them running around in their chirrupy enthusiasm. Sure, there was the occasional bloodthirsty chick or vulnerable weakling and if the two of them managed to find each other across the pool that was a difficult scene to watch. In fact we rarely watched, preferring to screech until one of our parents came in to separate the two and end the carnage. People who haven't seen baby chicks up close would never believe the way they act -- fluffy and viscious at the same time.

We gathered the eggs daily once they started laying and they were incredible. White, brown, even softly pastel from a batch of Araucana. They clucked and poked their way around their fenced patch of yard and here was where we really delighted in these chickens. Though inside the fence the yard was pecked bare the grass outside grew in abundance. And it wasn't long before we came up with a way to communicate with our fowl friends. We'd pull a single blade of grass, hold it up at a chicken's eye level, then the questioning would begin. I would ask if they preferred me to my sisters, if they were feeling happy that day, if they were going to lay an egg that day. Waving the blade of grass up and down or left and right would cause the hens to wave their heads to follow their potential snack and voila, I had my answer. My parents hardly believed we got the chickens to talk when we first told them, but seeing the results cracked them up.

Those chickens went into the stew pot at the end of the season. We loved playing with them in the tub in the living room, loved talking to them in the pen in the yard. And we loved eating them up in a casserole around the table on a dark winter's night when our memories of summer had begun to fade.

Today I am surprisingly unattached to people. Friends come and go, loved ones die, family members fade out of touch. I work hard to maintain relationships, am close to my family and have had some friends for decades. Still, though it sounds silly, I sometimes wonder if seeing and accepting the life cycle of those chickens helped me to accept that all living things will come and go in my life. I try to enjoy them while they are around, but do not grieve very much when they are gone. That, I suppose, is the point of this strange and rambling post: it may sound cold, but I think my approach leads to a fuller appreciation of the people who are around me when they are around me.


At 9/14/2005 12:04 AM, Blogger celeste said...

I didn't get to experience a lot of the things I read about in your posts growing up. But I love being taken into that world as I read what you write. Sounds like you had fun a lot of times. :) Isn't it nice that access to a blog gives us the excuse to journal it all down?


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