I sit at the fire and see the hills of my home. Or rather, not my home, for they belong only to our eyes (as much as anything can belong to anyone). But I’m beside the point which is about when I look at those hills. I think about the haphazard crossings of other lives with mine. I think about the reflection of the trees on the pond. There’s a row of pines and red berries on branches. This is my home. I think that I’ll look at these same hills when I’m dying. But mostly, I think about chickens.
Chickens in the cold, pecking, fretting, and groaning. Chickens running and tottering, flapping their small wings. Chickens huddled in the shed, making their comforting sounds. Chickens’ eyes get heavy as they fall asleep with the warmth of their sisters. Thinking of them, I won’t have nightmares tonight.
But often I do have nightmares. Looking at the yellow and grey evening sky, I think how chickens, sadly, do die. A mink’s massacre… A kindness after injuries… Accidents. “This is why I’m not ready to have a child,” I say over breakfast. But I accidentally became a chicken mother.
If I told you to picture a bird, I bet you would not think of a chicken. Chickens are seen as commodities, not animals.
But did you know?
They can tell apart over a hundred different chickens.
They have close friends.
They solve problems.
They grieve, and they love.
Chickens are people. We are chickens in other forms.
Six remain this morning.
I swear their eyes got wider.
Some have blood on them.
Layered cream feathers.
Hefty yet delicate.
Red faces, gold eyes.
In those eye I’ve seen
myself, since they were babies.
They aren’t stupid.
I think of chickens.
I wonder what it’s like
inside their minds.
I cry for the flock.
How they clung to the bodies.
(How they search and call for each other, still.)
All we can do now is heal.
I sit at the fire again. The cherry trees stand out dark and curvy on the skyline, stretching towards the long clouds and silhouetted by the white hills. I hear the chickens in the distance, clucking and cooing. The rooster crows. My hands are white and cold as I write in my notebook with my cherished pen.
When things go wrong, we must come together. When bad things happen, we are drawn together, huddling to stay warm. We tend to our flock. We are creatures of instinct. If we cannot do this, the hurt is deep. I’ve known that hurt. I belong now.
I belong with the forest, the hills, the garden, my rabbits, the deer, the grass carp and largemouth bass. I belong with the cherry trees, the maples, the ducks, the chickadees, the harriers, the swallows, the coyotes howling in the distance, and the foxes yipping. I belong with the grove of pine trees, the dirt, the clay, the rain, the snow, the sun, the meteors, the stars, and the moon. I belong in the woods, in the pine grove, in the lake, warm in my bed, in his arms on the couch, typing at my desk, walking across the fields, and here by the fire. I belong with the chickens.
When you love, life is brutal. When life is brutal, you must love.