Our daughter the nurse lies on the couch, it’s her day off and she’s visiting, reading tour books of France, and pondering her future. Travel, moving in with her boyfriend, horseback riding lessons. She is exhausted. No kids for her, she says. And I am understanding. It’s me who wants babies, but baby chicks will do. Chicks grow so fast and are so cute.
The Bearded One is with me on this. I want to go through the cycles, the birth and life and death.
I rest my almost fifty-seven-year-old feet on the foot massager next to my rocker. I’m reading a pile of chicken magazines from 2009. The Bearded One’s folks bought us a Backyard Poultry subscription. All of a sudden they are full of gold.
I tell my daughter the story of Leah, our 2-year-old Rhode Island Red hen who survived raccoon wounds to her head and neck two weeks ago. She spent one day in the cat carrier here in our small, dark, warm living room —
— the ICU (Intensive Chicken Unit), we laugh — and almost two weeks in the hoophouse and backyard away from Stevie and Maybelline who were prone to peck her scabs. On Saturday morning, the day of the big wind storm, she insisted on returning to the flock.
“She stood by the gate and looked at me,” I say. “She was going back up there, whether I took her or not.”
“AMA,” says the nurse. “Leaving Against Medical Advice.”
We listen to the Bearded One on the other side of the door hammering the last strips of hardware cloth onto the surface of the new deck.
The post-Halloween storm blew all the leaves out of the trees and everything is covered in inches of cedar needles.
I’m researching dual-purpose chicken farming — raising chickens that are both good layers and fryers, like Rhode Island Reds, and eating the meat as well as the eggs. No more helpless, hyper-bred Cornish, which were literally sitting ducks for the weasels this year.
“We’ll get a rooster!” I say. “The new neighbors have one, so it’s okay with them. We’ll actually hatch baby chicks and we’ll harvest the young roosters and the weak layers.”
“More of a real farm life,” she says, looking up from a map of France and reaching for her tea cup on the rug beside the couch.
“I guess so,” I say. I like the sound of that. Feels good. “We’ll get a big scalding pot and a make a killing cone.” We’ve done this so many times at the neighbors with the rented equipment and big flocks of Cornish as well as turkeys. We’re at ease with the killing and butchering. I know we can handle one or two birds at a time.
“Would you have eaten Leah if she’d died?”
It’s a good question, I say. No. But just because of the psychology. She’s named for one of His Majesty’s ex-girlfriends, one who has actually come out and visited the farmlet. I won’t attach to the next chickens like pets. I believe I can do this.
“What is this in my tea?” the nurse says suddenly. “Oh, look, I see it. It tastes like a tree. It’s a piece of cedar needle.”
We’re both laughing when the Bearded One blows in. “Hello,” I shiver and say to him, as he crosses the living room toward the front door, “Could we have a fire tonight?” I ham it up a bit. I rub my arms and huddle into my scarf. “It will be in the low 40s,” I say. “And it’s soooo dark and wet.”
“You don’t need to sell me,” he says, and warms me with his smile. “You had me at hello.”