Sunday, December 4, 2011

Poultry Peace

Mabel and Pearl
I should have known better. It was four days before Thanksgiving, and I thought I'd venture out to pick up some groceries, and a few things to prepare for house guests. I reasoned that it was a Monday morning, and it shouldn't be too busy.

It was a zoo. The grocery store was packed. I fought my way to the brussels sprouts, only to find three small shriveled brussels sprouts rolling pitifully in the bin. At the cheese counter, I merged my way to the brie, grabbed a chunk of smoked gouda on my way out, and escaped to the meat section.

An hour later, I reached the checkout stand feeling as if I'd run a gauntlet. "You survived!" commented the clerk. I laughed. "No bruises even!" But my head hurt. I don't do well in crowds.

Poppy and Betty Boop
I loaded up the car, crept out of the packed parking lot, and headed for Bed(lam) Bath and Beyond. There I jousted for parking spaces, avoided a near fender bender with someone who was on her cell phone, and a stopped for fabric at the fabric store.

Traffic was crazy. One last errand--I stopped at my favorite farm/ranch and outdoor store for scratch grains, and then I was done. I just wanted to get home. No doubt, the driver who followed me closely half the way home was just wanting to get home, or somewhere, quickly too.

I was grouchy and feeling pushed around by the time I pulled up in front of the house and unloaded my car. Still on edge, I carried the scratch grains back to the shop where we keep the chicken feed. I passed the coop on the way. Violet, Oreo, and Clover, secured in the run, were happy to see me. In that moment of clucked greeting, my heart rate began to slow, and I let them out, feeling appreciated.

The four teenage pullets were in the coop, and after checking their feed I sat and watched them for a while. 

I've introduced Mabel the Speckled Sussex (she was named Pippa, Cocoa, and Ruby, before the name Mabel just seemed to settle on her); and Pearl, the glamorous Porcelain Belgian d'Uccle. But we've also added two black Australorps who came from a nearby farm. They'll be big black hens, and good layers. Their eyes are as dark and deep. They stick together, the two new kids.

M named hers Poppy and the other chick is named Betty Boop. I think of Betty Boop as my friend Katie's hen. Katie was as sad as I was when we lost the four hens last month, and we brought Betty Boop home in her honor. Betty Boop was the name drawn from four names in a hat (Onyx, Prudence, Minnie, and Betty.) 

They peep and preen, stretching their wings, checking out the chopped lettuce I'd brought for them. With the big girls not there to chase them away, they're leisurely in their movements. Mabel is extremely curious about everything, and the bravest of the four. She often watches me with a cocked head as if trying to read my mind. I like her very much. Her tail feathers are still stubby, but sometimes she makes herself tall when she's feeling worried. Pearl is kind, and I watch her wiggle up next to the two little Australorps and the three of them settled down for a nap. Betty pecks at a stray piece of chicken feed on Pearl's back.

The quiet of the coop settles around me. I realize my shoulders are tight and my jaw has been clenched from my foray into retail chaos. And Christmas shopping hadn't even begun yet.
There is something extremely calming and relaxing about watching chickens. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but it's a balm after my morning spent merging in and out of traffic, grocery aisles, and parking lots.

After awhile, I leave the four young hens to their coop, and watch as Violet rushes up to say hello, then returns to her work. The world has slowed down to a more palatable pace.

As the holiday season begins its mad rush toward Christmas, I make it a point to stop in and watch the hens each day. I take them warm oatmeal, or a handful of green kale. They are simple and easy to please. There's no anger or judgment, no rudeness, and it soothes me to be with them. There is peace in their simplicity, and I am grateful.

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