Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Life Changing Chicken Wrangling

When I moved back to California from Arizona eight years ago I moved into a cute neighborhood in Pleasant Hill called Poet's corner. I loved that little pocket of vintage homes, established trees, and curvy streets bearing the names of poets. In the fall I would take long walks as I admired the uniquely updated homes set on large, garden-filled lots. I could smell the smoke in the air filtering out of the fireplaces as the crisp fall leaves crunched under my feet. It was inspiring for my project-loving, non-conformist, writer's soul. Many tangled thoughts became clear on those walks. Many mental seeds took root. My favorite house was perched on a corner with a meandering yet controlled garden cushioning its edges. Across the street from that house sat a home with a lovely hand-built chicken coop planted in the front yard. And there it was; the beginning; the knowing that one day I too would be a keeper of chickens!
It has now been seven months since we inherited our first flock. I am a changed woman. Initially, I looked at my chicks as small fluffy alien-like life forms. They were cute little novelty items, akin to fish swimming in a tank. I was excited about the prospect of future home-laid eggs but I was also nervous about the work involved with maintaining the coop (specifically, the obscenely profuse production of poop). I was not prepared for the endearing quirks and unique personalities of each bird. I didn't expect the connection that I would feel to them individually. Beyond that, I couldn't have known that this experience of raising and caring for chickens would strengthen my sense of responsibility to "life" itself, as represented by animals, humanity, and the planet that supports it all.
How does chicken keeping translate into benevolence toward all living things? I'm not sure that it does; not for everyone (or for anyone other than me); not in the golden ticket kind of way. It may have just been what I needed. I can't say that I was hit with a bolt of altruism the very day that Klee and I drove our first batch of silkies home. It has been more of a quiet opening of my heart. It's in the minutia: the scooping of poop, clipping of wings, coop construction, food selection, free-range wrangling, sick chick nursing. In researching what to feed them, what kind of bedding to use, how much roaming and perch space they need, I found myself considering not just their needs but their happiness. As they grew I got excited about the new feathers they were sprouting and their adolescent transitions from peeps to b'gawks. I loved observing the bonds they developed with each other. The daily routine of letting the girls out to play in the chicken yard, cleaning the poop out from under their perches, and filling their food and water isn't so much a chore but a zen-like activity that calms my mind, replacing anxious thoughts with live chicken entertainment. As I tend to the garden around the chicken coop I am amused and soothed by the clucks, pips, and hums of the flock.
The truth is, I don't really know how the chickens did it. I'm sure they didn't work alone. What I do know is that I LOVE more since they've been here. I like that.