I look like I’ve been squatting over seedlings in the sun all day — dirty fingernails, red neck, and a bit of a limp. We’re headed out on our evening walk with Ruby, and right away two unknown cars are coming slowly down our mile-long dead-end dirt road. We sit Ruby and wave at the cars as they pass.
I hope I don’t look too seedy. The road looks great, though. We just filled the potholes and have been clipping back the encroaching salal — which the goats love. The passing cars are newish and clean and I peg them as realtors.
One of the biggest houses on our road is up for sale. The sign went in this week. It calls our road “a quiet country lane,” which is true even with the barking dogs and crowing roosters and a couple of four-wheelers that roar by on beautiful days. We are a motley crew, all colors and ages and politics, and like most neighborhoods, we work at getting along. Except on beautiful spring evenings like this, when it comes easy.
We wait for the road dust to settle. “Oh,” says the Bearded One, “I saw Momma Goose this morning on the road.”
We’re walking again and the air is soft and fragrant with cottonwood, the evening birds twittering. I prompt the conversation. “Uh,” I say, “so what did you talk about?”
I laugh and know exactly what he’s talking about. He’s just so succinct. I have O.D.’d us both this week — Omnivore’s Dilemma‘d us, that is — on the question of killing sentient creatures because I want something to eat. And raising them solely for that purpose. And buying chicks that have been vigorously and unnaturally bred to grow big and meaty fast.
“She says to tell you she’s with you. Jonah does the killing, not her. She says the whole thing only works as a big family or neighborhood production, with everyone helping, doing whatever part they can.”
Which is what Michael Pollan says, too, in his chapter on slaughter. He writes that slaughtering animals every day of the week is dehumanizing, and that to manage our moral dilemma we should process poultry with other people, having conversation, working carefully and humanely.
Our 30 all white, straight run (mixed pullets and cockerels) Cornish Rock chicks will arrive on June 16 and will live out their 8 weeks of life on the ground, growing very fast, and by the end, eating two 50 pound sacks of feed every week. I want their lives to be good. I also want to eat chicken soup.
The Bearded One is designing the coops to be movable for cleanliness purposes, and he’s tripled the size of the pen from our first plan. There will be plenty of scratching and pecking space.
“Car,” I say. Ruby is snuffling in the blackberries by the side of the road and takes her sweet time coming. The husband of Momma Goose pulls up in his little red car. He is a big man who works as a jailhouse guard and has seen it all. “How’s it goin’?” he says with a smile.
I tell him everything, as if he’s a priest and I’m in confession. I ask him if he knows that the use of growth hormones on chickens has been illegal in the U.S. since the 1950s? That it’s the breeding that’s responsible for the fast growth. It galls me, I say, that chicken marketing screams “No Hormones” to draw attention away from the antibiotics and miserable conditions of factory farms.
“It’s what made America great,” the Bearded One chimes in, and Momma Goose’s husband laughs.
“Hey, a guy at work saw me reading the blog and he sees your drawings and says, ‘Is that a GOAT?'”
The Bearded One and Momma Goose’s husband hoot and holler at that. The stick goats have an audience. I laugh, too, but am really thinking about how cool it is that he shares a neighbor’s blog with other guards.
We are in the home stretch of our walk — just three more realtors or lookers waved at — when Hansel and Gretel come racing down the road toward us on their bikes. Batman is still further up the hill, sitting atop his dad’s shoulders, who rides his bike behind the kids. We sit Ruby and wave.
Hansel stops and Gretel almost rear ends him. They are breathless, their cheeks are pink and Gretel’s hair swirls as she laughs in the face of the near crash. They can hardly say hi they are breathing so hard.
Then Batman and his dad sail on by, waving, Batman shouting, “BYE BYE!!”
We laugh and yell out to Batman’s dad, “Watch out for the realtors!”