By Felix Carroll
First, an apology. A generation or two ago, we put away our hoes, we paved our roads, we snubbed our noses, and left you back in the dust. Let others toil the land. We had other places to be.
We replaced the backyard coop with the backyard patio. Meanwhile, with increasing urgency, you pecked at the old earth a telegraph to the ones who left you behind: Danger. STOP. Factory farming. STOP. Know your food supply. STOP. We’re lovable. And Easy. Don’t be stupid. STOP, STOP, STOP.
We’ve gotten the message. You are right. We were wrong.
Nations may fall. Waters may rise. We may all be dead tomorrow, but probably not for lack of fresh poultry products. In the suburbs and cities across this penitent nation, they’re retracing their steps, drawn by the utilitarian ideals you represent and all the promises you pack into a single oviduct.
Just read the recent pun-plagued headlines: “Council ‘scrambles’ for by-law change,” “Cooped Up: Urban Poultry Farmers are on the Rise,” “Chicken owners no longer run ‘afowl’” — that sort of thing. You know you’ve made it when even the publishers of the Dummies book series instruct “How to Change Chicken-Raising Regulations.”
Hang tight, gals, we’re coming back for you!
Here in America's outlier locations, we’re no dummies. You have long scratched at our earth, bathed in our dust and strutted around like you own the place. Still, as more and more families embrace backyard, back-to-the-land sensibilities — yes, that’s a homegrown pickle, take one, and have a jar of preserved peaches as well — you, dear hen, represent the natural next step.
Agway has shoved things around to make more room for your feed. Our librarians report you are subject number one (or two or three) in interlibrary book loans. Our postmasters are no longer startled to discover cardboard-encased special deliveries that cheep from within.
How ridiculous it was to not have you in our lives all this time. Let’s count the ways.
You are a giver, by design, practically a philanthropist. Unlike the dog, somnolent on the feather comforter (shh, he needs his sleep), and unlike the cat by the window doing its yogic stretches, you actually bring something to the table. Something edible. And you eat ticks, and grubs, and Japanese beetles. And to top it all off, you poop a near perfect fertilizer.
You have a touch of the madcap about you. After a day spent pecking at this hand-me-down land, re-stitching its seams, you promptly put yourself to bed without having to be asked. We watch you. With perfect posture, you file one by one like debutants balancing books upon their heads. Up the ramp you go, and nighty-night. Just your breed names alone could be mistaken for that of drag queens, or local militias: Buff Orpington, Araucana, Sicilian Buttercup, Lamona? Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rock, Black Sumatras, White Leghorns?
You teach us the virtues of poverty. A little food and water is all you ask for, and somewhere to slumber, preferably heavily fortified and with a perch. You feel no special urge to run off down the road chasing smells, like the dog (that moron). You stick around.
And you get us thinking. It’s a tough world. If we didn’t know it already, we know it now. You caused many a newbie backyard chicken owner to pause and consider whether the grim realities of ambivalent nature are worth a golden yoke. Predators in the night? Wanton death? Feathers disappearing like ellipsis across the early morning lawn? It’s no wonder you sometimes look so panic-stricken. Hawks and foxes circle in the black underbrush of your genetic code. We know these things now.
But that you desperately lack the ability to survive without us is another characteristic that endears you to us. What with those inefficient wings that carry you only so far, you might as well wear a suit of parsley and carry a letter of introduction to your suitors with the sharp teeth. (And by the way, you’re not a piece of meat to us. Not you. Don’t even think about it.)
Also, your pecking order allows us to feel a little less ashamed of our own species’ ruthless dictators.
And now fall is coming. That fluffy little chick in spring is now a feathered-out hen. You’ve lost your youthful good looks. And so have we. But it’s all okay. We’ve made amends. It’s soon time for our higher calling. Together, defiantly, we curse the darkness. We secure your coop till we meet again in the morning when, dear hen, as your scouts and sentries stand by, the pact between human and backyard chicken will be formalized once again with a succession of clucks that resonate across the yard, across the patio, and into the kitchen.
And there we have it — the very symbol of renewal.
Of life itself.
Of life itself.
Pre-packaged protein: an egg.