I’m in the kitchen making pumpkin pulp and explaining to my oldest Twenty-Something daughter about clipping a chicken’s flight feathers on one wing to keep them from flying the coop.
“They’re bantams, so they’d have no problem with a six-foot fence and heading straight for South America. They’d probably only make it to the cedars, though, before a raccoon or owl got them.” Our daughter gasps and drops the Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe on the counter.
“You mean the Sesame Street song ‘There Are Chickens in the Trees’ is TRUE?”
“Yes,” I say, and her shock resonates in me. How is it possible, that in almost 55 years of life I missed the fact that chickens can not only fly, but will also roost in trees if allowed? We are such complete neophytes at all this farmlet stuff.
I remind her that our banty mother hen Kimber is wild, that almost 3 months ago she was rescued from a defunct farm with her 3 siblings and 7 of her own chicks. A feral flock.
Then I tell how the siblings immediately flew the coop across the road at Momma Goose’s and have lived successfully in her cedar trees, until two of them recently returned to the coop. “Momma Goose says it’s not such a bad deal,” I say. “Free room and feed. She also says that Kimber will teach her seven babies to fly away, too, if given the chance.”
Our daughter works quietly, patting the ginger snap crust into the pan. I know she’s taking all of our food source talk to heart. She’s even reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Still, maybe I’m babbling. Maybe there are too many chickens to keep track of. I offer to draw a genealogical chicken family tree.
“Mom, it’s okay,” she says. “Really.” I conclude she means that this is all very interesting to her, and I should continue the flow of chicken information.
Clipping the first 10 long feathers on one wing is like clipping its fingernails, I explain. It doesn’t hurt, the feathers grow back the next year, and it lets us let them out of the pen since they can’t fly away. We’re running out of sluggy, small cabbages and greens to supplement their feed; they need to be able to peck around the pastures during the day.
The refrigerator behind us makes sounds like Kimber — Br-k, br-k br-k — and I imagine the chicks all rushing to it immediately. I get out the eggs for the pumpkin cheesecake, a box with a fancy full-color label that we bought at the grocery store for a whopping $3.69/dozen because the label said Cage-Free. When we got home, the Bearded One examined the box more closely.
“They came from Denver,” he said. We couldn’t decide which was worse, buying local-ish factory farm eggs or supposed cage-free ones shipped 1,500 miles. Kimber and the rest won’t be laying until well after the New Year when the chicks are weaned, and the daylight lasts longer. The Bearded One laughs at the notion we get longer days come January. “More like July,” he says.
A week passes and this eldest daughter is now in Chicago on her first business trip, a surreal notion in itself. She calls and I tell her it’s freezing here, inside and out. “We bought a 14 cubic foot chest freezer,” I say, “and the first thing in it was our 30 POUND turkey!”
This is the biggest turkey of our neighbor’s flock, a gargantuan Franken-turkey harvested by Momma Goose, Jonah and the Bearded One on November 11.
I tell her we’re going to buy 25 chicks at a time — birds specifically bred to be “meat birds,” raise them, harvest them and freeze them right here. Our daughter is impressed and says she wants to buy chicken from us.
Then she’s maxed out on chickens and wants to talk about love. She tells me she really really really likes a guy, but it’s not perfect. He’s moving soon. His job keeps him away for months at a time.
My long-distance parenting relies heavily on classic movie scenes, so I quote my favorite love movie, Moonstruck. “Love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”
“Thanks, Mom,” she says.
“You’re welcome,” I say. “You just get him here for Thanksgiving. We’ll clip his wings.”