I’m at the butchering table and five men run by chasing a little rooster. There are thirteen of us altogether, down the road from our farmlet at Honey Girl’s farmlet, doing the five-hour circle dance that is chicken harvesting. This rooster got loose in transport from the pens.
“Get the net!” shouts Honey Girl, who works across the table from me and is nick-named here after her beloved Akita dog who died. Honey Girl is a forty-something marine machinist at the naval shipyard in Bremerton and good friends with Momma Goose, the neighbor who got us all started on this chicken stuff. Momma Goose is currently taking a break, huddling by the fire and watching the chase, too. The fire whips around her legs.
One of the runners peels off to get the net. It’s the younger one of Honey Girl’s two teenaged nephews, the one who’s in charge of the fire. His brother has been steadfastly hauling each gutted chicken from us four butchers to the coolers full of ice water. We’ve got to cool them down fast. The Bearded One watches from the killing cones where he’s been working all morning as the posse races across the driveway toward the orchard. “No way,” he says. “There’s not a prayer of them catching that chicken.”
The rooster is one of the little banties Honey Girl tried to give away with no luck. She wants them gone. “They create chaos,” she says, and I laugh. Honey Girl does not. “I’m serious,” she says. “They fight with each other. They beat up and peck the hens.”
The other two butchers, currently, besides Honey Girl and me are Momma Goose’s husband, Brooklyn Man, and a woman from Spanaway who called the Pierce County Conservation Society where Momma Goose rents the chicken processing equipment. She asked for a friendly person to learn from. That would be Momma Goose. She and Brooklyn Man and the Bearded One and I are the oldest ones here. They are all introverts. I’m the only talker.
And I am enjoying the chance to get to know Honey Girl better. We’ve been friendly — waving — strangers for years. I have feared she’s been mad at me over road politics. There’s been disagreement on the road about paving, and I’ve been active in that, but it’s pretty much history now. Our senses of humor just aren’t in sync yet. I thought she was referring to the current chaos, shouting and whooping and the flying net. Turns out she means the roosters create chaos all the time.
The gang cornered the rascal rooster once, but it got away. That’s when the call for the net went out. Now the action is over in the orchard, which Honey Girl says, as we resume our butchering, has apple and quince trees.
We talk briefly of what a quince is — a pearish applish fruit that makes good jam.
We talk about chicken feed routines and regimens, how crazy big our Cornish are, and I tell about how two of them rolled over on their backs this week and couldn’t get back up. Turtled. One we found dead, so we don’t know if it died because it turtled or if it turtled after it died. The other we eventually turned over and it was fine.
We talk of the layers Honey Girl has, and how many dozen eggs a day she gets.
“I’m trying to do a really good job for you, Christi,” Honey Girl says suddenly.
I look up from my cutting. “Thank you,” I say.
None of us wants to stay divided, I think. We are in the trenches here. We avoid politics.
The closest I came to politics was when I was introduced to three of the chicken chasers, two exquisite young twenty-something sailors from the Ronald Reagan ship, S and J, and S’s wife K who works with Momma Goose. This is their first chicken harvest. They watched the YouTube video last night. Their respectfulness and eye-contact and beauty reminded me of my personal military loss, and I cried a little as we all talked. My adopted brother hung himself in the Navy back in 1986. Someone mentions the current daunting suicide rate in our military. “I don’t think we are using our military wisely these days,” I said, and they all nodded. Now, though, they are leading the rooster chase, laughing their asses off, recuperating out here in all this nature.
I accidentally poke the bile sack next to the liver and green fluid spills out onto the butchering table. Honey Girl calls for the hose — bile and poop must be washed off the table immediately — but all the helpers are still chasing the chicken.
“Let it go!” Honey Girl hollers. “For God’s Sake! See what I mean? Chaos!” The lesson is clear: Some chickens you chase, most you don’t.
The Bearded One walks up rubbing his aching neck and says, “Why on earth do those cones hang so low? You’ve got to put your head a foot off the ground to see what you’re doing.” I am exhausted and lean into him.
We process 50 Cornish fryers, 10 little roosters, and 6 turkeys. Dark clouds have formed to the south, and when we leave, the wind is starting to whip around. The rooster appears in the middle of the road as we honk our goodbyes, and runs furiously off into the wild.