Our son has called from college and the Bearded One clicks on the speaker phone. “Hi, Sweetie!” I shout, my heart so happy to hear his voice.
“Hi, Mom.” He’s been calling frequently and sometimes actually talking about his feelings, which I love.
“Hey, Bud,” says the Bearded One. “How’s it goin’?”
“Two more weeks and I’ll be back there,” he says. “I can’t wait.”
Of our three Twenty-Something kids, our son has spent the most time here. Five years ago, he hauled and stacked all the rough cedar planks we’re currently cutting up to make room for the meat chicken pen. We’ve been drying them for firewood. Three summers ago he stained the sheets of plywood that are now on the chicken coop. Last year he helped dig post holes and stretched five-foot no-climb fencing for hundreds of feet. And just two months ago, he helped bring the goats home.
“We’re watching the snow and hail,” I say. “It’s snowed practically every day this week.”
“It’s like 70 here.”
CLICK. He is gone. The line is dead. This happens from time to time with cellphones, we understand this. I just hope a semi didn’t hit him.
“Technical difficulties,” says the Bearded One.
Standard protocol is for the caller to call back. We wait. “He’ll call right back,” I say. But he doesn’t.
We watch the snow falling on the hens as they scratch and peck down in the lower pasture. They’ve all decided that freezing rain and snow are not keeping them in the aviary. All, that is, except for Stevie. Who, we are figuring out, is going broody.
Our roosters left weeks ago to the auction, but in her broody trance, Stevie doesn’t care if the eggs are fertilized. There don’t even have to be eggs! She sits in a nest box for hours, not leaving to even eat or drink, driven by motherly instinct. And she must be there now. Out the window I count just 10 chickens. We have 11.
After several minutes, our son still has not called back. The phone remains propped up on the kitchen table between us. I make sure it’s working. “Should we call him?” I ask.
“Let’s wait a few more minutes,” says the Bearded One and he begins to dance around and sing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s song “Mr. Bojangles.”
He is trying to lighten the mood as the minutes tick by and our son could be…who knows. My imagination has gone broody. I laugh and then laugh even harder when the Bearded One gets to the lyric about the beloved dog up and dying and Mr. Bojangles still grieving after 20 years. Our son just turned 21 on St. Patrick’s Day.
“He did not up and die!” I say.
“No, he did not,” says the Bearded One.
“And I’m sure that he’d want us to just continue on with our lives,” I say.
“At least we exchanged weather reports,” says the Bearded One.
Usually broodiness, if it’s going to come, comes on in a hen’s second year, so Stevie is early. Her temperature goes up, and she is a law unto herself. She commandeers a nest for hours, spreading her wings, and pecking at intruders while her own health and hygiene deteriorate. And the instinct is contagious. Have I got it?
“Let’s be sure to remember to tell him about the green eggs,” I say and the Bearded One, who is now sitting on the couch with me, nods. Our Ameracuana hen Jane — a breed that lays blue eggs, which sometimes look greenish — laid her first egg on St. Patrick’s Day, the day our son turned 21. “Such good omens,” I say, and the Bearded One agrees.
A quick, sometimes effective old-time solution to broodiness is to grab the hen from the nest and dip her in a bucket of cold water, or even to put ice cubes under her. If she doesn’t snap out of it, she has to be relocated from the coop for a few days in a wire cage, with air underneath her hot breast and plenty of food and water.
Finally the phone rings, and I snatch it up. “Are you okay?!”
“Yeah,” says our healthy son. “Sorry. I just waited ’til I got home to call back. I knew that same disconnect thing would happen again on campus. It happens all the time.”
“Oh, of course,” I say lightly, and then he wants to hear about the chickens and the goats. He asks detailed questions about the new chicken pen. We tell him the rats are gone — the water hose and removal of food access did the trick. I say that Ruby the dog and LaLa the goat are playing through the fence, barking and butting. I learned this week that goats don’t have upper front teeth; their upper front mouth is one big gum. There was ice on the goats’ water this morning, and the Bearded One has started chainsawing footholds in the goats’ enormous recreational tree stump.
Our son listens and sighs. “I’m ready to come home,” he says, and I realize he’s gone a bit broody, too.