The Bearded One sits at the kitchen table with an ice pack on his neck and reads about chickens while I sort red huckleberries for jam. “Chickens don’t urinate,” he says and I am stunned.
Another piece of farm information I’m learning in my 50s. He’s researching roosts after finishing the last outdoor gate this weekend, carrying said gate backwards and downhill being the culprit for his neck skronk. I look up from my work. Tip: sorting small berries from loose leaves and debris is easier if you put them in water and let the leaves float to the top.
“They exhale moisture and their poop is wet,” he explains. “Basically water guns.” “Ahhh,” I say, and remember another amazing chicken fact. Roosters don’t have a penis. That’s right. A little secret that I’ve shocked even veteran farmers with. But it’s true. Rooster’s tushes look very much like hens’. They just sort of line them up, I guess.
The conversation runs its course and the Bearded One leaves with the dimensions he sought — the roosts should be 2-3 inches in diameter — and I begin to mash the berries. Two hours later, the huckleberry jam has not jelled and so I’m on the jamline again. The solution is to open all of the jars, re-heat the jam, add more pectin and re-process. Which is what I’ll do because the jam is good and I’m trying to learn.
My mind shifts to the just-scalped strawberry garden and whether to completely rotate the crop — dig under all the strawberries and plant a short-season vegetable — or renovate by thinning and composting. They’ve got crazy-thick root systems by now.
The strawberry hill, as I think of it, is seriously female. All the plants are called either mothers or daughters. She has stretched the stereotype for fertility this year, producing 13 gallons of sweet berries in her 3rd season. But she has a high maintenance beauty regime. According to the master gardeners on-line, it’s time for a complete make-over or a thorough tweezing — a big eyebrow project. Our younger daughter suggested stepping back to check the effect after every third pluck.
I can see the Bearded One up in the chicken house from where I stand on the strawberry hill. He’s coming into the home stretch, actually talking about getting chickens “before the weather turns.” I love it when he explains to our 20-year-old son, “We will insulate the chicken house with styrofoam sheeting or else their combs and wattles will freeze.” I have no idea what a wattle is, but I am thrilled to my bones.
It’s the same feeling, I think, that our younger daughter, the nurse and owner of our houseguest cat, has when I say that I brush Ditto every day. And that I know how Ditto drools, and how she is an expert jumper and can leap from the deck railing to the roof — at least 6 feet — with a flip of her well-turned-out paws. Our daughter says these stories make her feel deeply pleased. I’m attuned to the little details of a creature that is important to her. And so it is when the Bearded One talks chicken, which are completely my idea. I fall in love with him all over again.
Our older daughter calls that night to say she is coming over this Friday, and can I believe it, she, a total city dweller, is critter-sitting her neighbor’s two hens! “TELL ME EVERYTHING!” I say, as if she were now the Chicken Whisperer. “What color are they? What do they eat? Have you collected any eggs yet?” I can’t wait to pick her brain on Friday.
“MOM,” she reminds me, “I don’t even like chickens!” But I don’t hold that against her. I feel awe for her, my daughter, as she has actually fed a chicken twice.