Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ode to Chickens

I have fancied chickens for as long as I can remember. Yes, the cluck, cluck, scratch, scratch variety. Don't ask why because I don't even know myself, but I just love chickens. Who can resist a chicken? Plump and soft, devoted mothers, fierce fathers, attractive hens, magnificent roosters, useful without being used up.

Honey gold Buff Orpington Stalwart Plymouth Rock Classic Americana Rhode Island Red

Old World Barnvelders (Check out the gold lacing pattern on the hen!) Sassy Wyandotte

One of my earliest chicken memories is of sitting in the backseat of my parents' car with my Grandma E, a former chicken farmer. I was about eight or nine and we were discussing all of the vagaries of raising chicks. Well, the discussion was more like a recitation of every chicken detail, fact or tip that I had memorized by checking out and reading every book our library had on chicken husbandry. As I talked about incubation, the specifications of a variety of do-it-yourself brooders, the correct height for the lightbulb used to keep new hatchlings at an optimum temperature (and how to tell), what to feed them and how to prevent them from drowning in their water AFTER you have dipped their baby beaks in to teach them how to drink, my grandma exclaimed, "I think you know more about chickens than I do!" What a compliment! I must have glowed for hours.

About an hour away is a world-renowned museum featuring a chick exhibit with incubated eggs at different stages so that every day, every hour, there are chicks hatching that people can watch. As a child and now as a parent with my own children, I have watched those chicks shake and quiver and struggle then rest and then shake and quiver and struggle some more to break free of their eggshell prisons. If you visit, your eyes will lock on one mini-struggle for life and if you have any sort of soul, you will not be able to walk away until you have seen "your" little fellow through his birthing ordeal. And if you are like me, a tear might slip down your cheek as you realize that watching something, anything, being born is one of the few true everyday miracles.

So you might think that with this great chicken love-fest going on here, Mustard Seed House must be home to a flock of chickens, real or otherwise. I wish I could report that I have a happy klatsch of ladies in my backyard, but alas, city ordinances being as unprogressive as they are, backyard flocks are banned. (If I ever run for local office, it will be on a chicken platform -- "A chicken in every yard!") But that is not to say that I have not dreamed of clandestine coops and fantasy flocks (if guys can have fantasy leagues, why can't I?!). My gals even have names: Selma, Matilda, Frieda, Bertha, Erna, Dorothy and Gertrude in honor of my grandmothers' and great-grandmothers' first and middle names. I envision misty mornings, going out to release my girls from their coop where they have cozily roosted all night, scattering some feed at my feet as they jostle their plump feathery bodies to scratch and cluck and hunt for bugs, gathering warm eggs in a rainbow of dusky colors and creating simple, yet divine, egg-based dishes that friends and family clamor for. Oh the life!

While this may sound crazy to some (or MOST -- including El Guapo!), I have found a chicken-loving soulmate in a co-worker, Divine Miss M. DMM is further along in her chicken dream than I since on the Tuesday after Easter (this is in just five days!!), 50 hatchlings will be arriving at her parents' house in the country and she is going to be in charge of their egg and meat production. I am experiencing the thrill vicariously and am almost as excited as she is for Tuesday to arrive! I'll keep you posted. I have already been saving egg cartons galore; this has not been a problem since we go through several dozen eggs a week. (If El Guapo's blood tests come back showing high cholesterol, I guess we'll know why!)

And before anyone starts anonymously sending chicken brick-a-brack, knick-knacks or other paraphernalia, our decor is not chicken-coop-chic; it is more late-millennial Salvation Army in neutral colors with accents of hand-me-downs. I don't actually collect anything since I have discovered that for myself anyway, collections breed discontent. Even when you add a new piece, you are always on the hunt for one more thing, always wanting more, always pining for something you can't have. So no collecting (I do have a book addiction problem I can write about some other time, though!). But I do have a couple of chicken-related items that bring me great pleasure.

This is a salt and pepper set from my Grandma D. They are filled with antique grime and impossible to clean without possibly damaging the painting, but I love their whimsical design.

This is one of my favorite things, one of those everyday items that brings me unexplainable pleasure and joy every time I look at it. I agonized over buying him at the Kriskindle Market one winter. He is German hand-cast, hand-painted pewter and could be used as a pin or brooch. We passed the stall several times, but it was at a time when the budget was really tight, so even though he didn't cost that much, it was hard to spend the money. I am so glad we did. About a week after I brought him home and hung him near my kitchen sink, I was listening to the radio while putzing around the kitchen, and I heard a most amazing tidbit that has forever enshrined chickens in my heart (as if they weren't already!).

In Jesus' time and in the times of the Early Church (the 2-3 centuries after Christ), believers would etch the icthus (fish) symbol on their doorposts as a subtle symbol to other believers -- kind of like hobo codes letting fellow travelers and pilgrims know they would be welcomed with hospitality. As persecution increased and officials became more hostile to Christianity, believers had to forgo the icthus symbol as it was like a signpost saying, "Come beat this door down and feed me to lions." They used a different symbol, rich in meaning. The rooster. As in the cock that crowed after Peter denied Christ three times on the night of Jesus' arrest and trial. As in every time we look at this rooster, let's remember to never deny our Lord or who we are. Even today in countries where Christians are tracked down, hunted, tortured, killed for their faith, the rooster is a vibrant symbol identifying like-minded souls to each other and admonishing them to take courage. So I love my colorful fellow who keeps me company as I wash dishes, wipe counters, prepare meals. He is a reminder to me: Brothers and sisters live in chains -- pray for them. Peter denied Christ, but was forgiven -- forgive others. Peter denied Christ, but was redeemed -- there is hope for me. Peter denied Christ, but others have not -- take courage and live boldly. Happy Easter.

No comments: