Time versus LOVE

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It’s been a year. To the day. It was a normal January winter day and a rare night off the farm and out for dinner, followed by the normal rituals that end each of our days. Just before bed, a neighbor returning home ran down the farm driveway to let us know that our chicken house was on fire. I think I was only in a nightgown and boots. I raced as fast as I could. In the clear night sky, flames licked upwards. Sirens could be heard growing ever louder. Though the door had been opened and a flurry of feathers and bodies escaped out, the open doorway of fresh oxygen only served as an accelerant to the devastation. Early comfort that birds had fled turned into the realization that the movement outside we counted was a very small fraction of those we knew had been inside.  3 firehouses later, and in the counting and recounting, we came up with 14 chickens. The ducks had a hero in our Goose “Wally’ who at the opening of door, pushed all of them out.  The turkeys were all gone. In the light of the morning and smoking debris, there was no hiding from accepting that almost all our beautiful birds had lost their lives.

If you are an animal lover like we all are, that’s a hard thing to swallow. Unrelenting.

I have told the story of how that morning was defined by a steady stream of neighbors and friends coming down the driveway to help, and how we felt comforted by the love we felt wrapping itself around us.  There were so many tears.  So many.  There’s still here just under the surface if I close my eyes. And when there is loss, we think about a house full of people, small talk and casserole dishes to help get you through sadness, and then a couple weeks later, reality really hits. People say things like “just give it some time” because they are exhausted.

That’s what I’ve heard happens.

That’s not what happened.

Full scale everything went into action and for this last year it did not stop.  It did not stop. Those same people stayed. They helped. They became invested in making something beautiful happen to balance out the ‘why do bad things happen’.

A year later, there is a new beautiful home for chickens.  It was paid for by people we know who wanted to help, and people we don’t know that just wanted to do something good. We have a home for roosters (though most people don’t like them – we do) and a home for ducks and turkeys.  All of this is surrounded by a tall beautiful fence that keeps predators out, and a chicken area that is luxury living at its finest.  What is even more incredible is that there is life.  There are chickens that came back to us from schools that were hatching our chicken eggs at the time of the fire.  We have chickens from schools that hatched their own eggs but that gave us their baby chicks to help out.  We have chickens our neighbors hatched from eggs from their chickens that were hatched from our eggs.  We have turkeys from our turkey’s eggs and we have ducks from our duck’s eggs.  From the miserable quiet and sadness, emerged the flamboyant calls of new life, new voices, new stories. New personalities and colors and characteristics that daily remind us not only of the beauty of the birds from which they are descended, but of the beauty they remind us of the human souls who made this healing possible.  If you’re reading this, you know who you are and you know what you did, and we know you wouldn’t stop until we got to THIS day.

Today at sunset we stood feeding bread to chickens, drowned out by the clucking and squawking of happy birds, chirps from goofball turkeys and loud squeals from ‘Wally’ the goose.  All the same sounds as last year at sunset on this night. There was sadness to think back on the utter blackness of spirit that we walked through. Collectively. In the waning pink and orange light, we looked around at all the faces, the social groups, the general shenanigans of life on a farm, and we felt love.   Powerful love that wouldn’t let go and that after boxes and boxes of Kleenex, dragged us through time to get here to feel perfect and magical again. All I can think is to say “Thank you friends and Thank You LOVE”.

Happy Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day, and recent farm events have a particular love story that’s been in the front of my head for a long time, demanding to be told.

A couple years ago, a local neighbor called needing to find an urgent home for her male goose. She had a mated pair, who the night before, had been attacked by either a dog or coyote in her backyard.  The attach was vicious and cost the life of her female goose that she found dead, with her body being protected by her mate, an African Goose by the name of “Wally”. The owner cried and cried but feared that whatever had killed one, would be back the following night for the other, and so “Wally” came to live at Kuhs Farm.

When “Wally” arrived, we thought for sure his heart would be melted by the sweet and steady charm of our African Goose “Georgie”. Georgie and I first met in a chaotic blur of a small Vietnamese woman making a bee-line for her at a swap meet in Bonne Terre, Missouri.  Not having the most polished understanding and command of the Vietnamese language, I was still able to surmise that her intentions for Georgie were not honorable, and I managed to put myself and cash between the small lady and Georgie, and into the back of the Nissan she went. It seemed fortuitous that all of a sudden with the crisis in Wally’s life, we now had a boy and a girl goose that might somehow be interested in each other.

Around the same tie, or shortly thereafter, a new acquaintance was downsizing her farm animal population, and in so doing, I bought her beautiful mated pair of Sebastopol Geese (think ‘Bjork’s outlandish dress for the Oscars years back). They were so exotic and beautiful in their crisp and clean white, with twirling feathers and piercing blue eyes…..together they were a cross of farmyard and old Hollywood glamour, and I named them “Fred” & “Gracie” for Fred Astaire and Grace Kelly.

Strolling around the farm together was like being on the edge of a red carpet that rolled all the way out to The Midwest. Fred & Gracie toured together…..walking around the farm, like the Lord and Lady of The Manor might “take some sun” to go watch the peasants work the fields.  They had a sense of refinement and an aloofness that traveled with them like a protective bubble.  It was beautiful just to watch them, and everybody did. Even the chickens stopped what they were doing when farm royalty walked by. From the outside looking in, their world and their love seemed flawless (think David Beckham and Posh ‘Spice’ Victoria – the early years). Seeing them, you couldn’t help but feel a little smitten.  If you can imagine our hope was that Wally would come to love the simple and steady Georgie in time, those hopes were soon dashed when Fred & Gracie walked past him the first time. All hope was lost.

I may be dating myself but if you’re old enough, you might remember P-Diddy went through this weird phase where he went to movie premieres, parties and All Star events with this crazy looking dude in a seersucker suit with a bow tie named ‘Farnsworth Bentley’, who followed Diddy everywhere holding a ridiculous ‘Mary-Poppins-meets Versace’ umbrella.

 

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It was so pretentious and weird, and thankfully somebody told him what a dork it made him look like. It stuck in my mind because this poor guy with the umbrella just trailed ‘P Diddy’ (or was he ‘Puffy Daddy’) everywhere like his butler or footman…just so completely subservient to shadowing him no matter where he went.

So here are the King and Queen of Farmlife, touring the farm like Elizabeth & Prince Phillip, when their magnificence is witnessed by Wally. From this moment on, his life is changed.  Wally’s world was rocked. Call it smitten, call it enthralled, ‘star-struck’…whatever you want, but from that point on, Wally attached himself to their entourage-of-two, and wherever they went, Wally followed.  It was kind of ridiculous. OK, a lot.

The strange thing was that he didn’t follow like a stalker; a farm paparazzi waiting to jump out of the bushes….he walked either in front of them or behind them as if he was poultry secret service.  The first couple times I saw it, I was like “Awwww Fred, you better watch your girl…that goose is getting all L.L. Cool J on her”, but then I realized Wally wasn’t confronting or challenging Fred. Instead of hanging out on the sidelines of a party, sipping his cocktail and acting nonchalant while he’s secretly mentally undressing Gracie, he’s acting more like the good guy who just wants to make sure the cute couple doesn’t get accosted by fans.  It was cute.  No silly umbrella, but he was their protector, and all the while very respectful and chaste.

The more I watched, I felt bad for Wally. He had just lost his love, and before he could go to any meetings to talk about his feelings or read a self-help book about moving on, his black solar system had 2 new white hot suns. He was their 3rd wheel, or if you’re a ‘Top Gun’ fan, he was a ‘Wingman’. I guess it was better than descending into depression, but perhaps it felt good to have something to occupy his time and make him feel needed.  I would imagine that it all made sense in his head and that he’d made his peace to worship from afar, but devote his life nonetheless. Very stoic. Very Jane Austen. Back then it struck me as noble.

Fate has a wonderful way of killing movie stars in car crashes, motorcycle accidents, downed planes and by falling overboard Robert Wagner’s yacht, and out of the blue, Fred met his end underneath the front truck tire of farm helper Phil.  Absolutely and without a doubt a total accident, but now Gracie finds herself alone.  Ok, not really alone, because Wally didn’t miss a beat.  He was there to comfort her and follow her around while she mourned the loss of her mate. Always respectful, Wally continued his ‘watch’ to make sure she never went anywhere unattended, or was ever in harm’s way. I was very sad to lose Fred in such a tragic way, but I was rooting for the underdog to finally have a chance at happiness.

Months went by, and still the admiration ever evident in his supervision of Gracie’s daily routine.  As soon as the Mr. Turtle pool was cleaned and replaced with fresh water every day, Wally was squawking with wings open, pushing everybody out of the way like a linebacker so that Gracie got the sparkling clean fresh water to bathe in. Never mind that it was everybody else’s drinking water, first and foremost it was Gracie’s because of Wally.

Over time, I thought for sure, we might consider them a real ‘couple’, but I have never seen any unchaste behavior. Nothing rude or assumptive. Always she is show the utmost respect. I began thinking of them like two 30-something year olds who both lost a spouse, and from two broken beginnings, make a new life together. Two creatures who have known loss and settle in to a safe life of being good to each other.  Now as farm life went on, these 2 could be seem just outside the edges of everything, just the two of them in their own private bubble. I thought this is how it would always be.

Spring 2015, just in time for our annual Easter party and egg hunt, neighbor Joshua and family had taken home chicken, turkey and duck eggs weeks prior, so that we would have Spring chicks, baby ducks and turkeys.  We had been collecting these amazing dark charcoal grey eggs, one day at a time and wanted to hatch them. They were so exotic and strange, almost like ‘Game of Thrones’ dragon eggs.  We were all fascinated and Joshua set to work to see if he could get them to hatch…and of course he could.  Just in time for the party, he brought brown and yellow baby ducks with black feet and black bills.  They were a hit at the party and we had 7 of these adorable little guys.

As these little ducks outgrew their brooder box, for safe keeping, we put them in their own little protected pen, attached to a tiny house with a walk up ramp to get inside.  They even got their own Mr. Turtle pool with fresh sparking water. This house is directly across from the farm house, and enough removed from where the chicken house stood, that to discover the addition of the baby ducks, you’d have to walk a bit away from the main chicken house where the ducks also lived, along with Wally and Gracie.

With the addition of the baby ducks, they had attracted curious onlookers who upon wandering towards the barn, discovered new lower toned quacking coming from inside. The little brown and yellow ducks had begun to turn colors as their baby duck down turned into glistening black feathers with emerald green accents when hit by the sun.  They were beautiful and exotic and reminded me of the star power wattage of Fred and Gracie when they had first arrived. You couldn’t help but look at them and “Ooooh” and “Ahhhhh”. Also caught in the tractor beam of admiration were Wally and Gracie.  As soon as the chicken house door would open in the morning, the two of them would make a B-line for the baby duck pen, where they would spend their day walking back and forth the perimeter looking and squawking.  Not a little bit of squawking like “ooooh look at the pretty tiger”, but more like alarm.  This went on for days.  They did nothing else, and at the end of the day, had to be physically herded back to the chicken house, all the while with Wally protesting with open wings and quippy comments. We began to worry that the two geese weren’t even eating or drinking. They were absolutely consumed with circling the pen, attention so tightly focused that we began to deeply question what had them so singularly focused and driven. The baby ducks were getting bigger, that as I went down a list of what-the-hell-is-going-on, I thought “Well, why don’t we open the pen door and see what the issue is?”. I actually thought it might be ‘clean Mr. Turtle Pool water envy’ so I thought, “Let’s just see what happens”.

After me telling all the humans that I take full responsibility for whatever happens next, the pen was opened, the two frantic geese stormed into the yard with the 7 baby ducks.  I thought for sure the next thing would be Gracie plopping herself into the pool and all the clean baby duck water sent splashing out, but it wasn’t. They walked in calmly. Walked towards the Mr. Turtle pool and passed it. They divided and each flanked around the little black ducklings, and from the backside, came back together in the center of them, and then kept them herded together. And then they did something weird.  In the middle of the babies, Gracie bent her graceful white neck down, and began grooming them, one by one, while Wally trumpeted around them with outstretched wings. Something beautiful was happening.  Something really really beautiful was happening and not a person that saw this didn’t realize what we were witnessing.

Now I’m no Walt Disney, but I can see that common emotions transcend the barriers of phylum and class within the Animal Kingdom, and that attachment, love and belonging aren’t the exclusive franchise of humans. From incubator to this very moment, these ducklings had been fed and cared for with love by humans, but what we all forgot was that to be animals and not just our cute little ducks, they would need role models, elders to teach them behaviors to model. Mother Nature has a pretty ingenious system in place to help the young of any species thrive, but essential to that is to have the protection and teaching to get them safely into their maturity.  That all makes logical sense. What isn’t so evident is that what is not only ‘good for the goose, is good for the gander’.

I thought of Wally and Gracie as a happy couple that survived loss and found each other in the face of adversity. I thought that was the zenith of their story, but it was just the beginning. Though they began as a mismatched pair, two broken halves can come together, and as it does for many childless couples, adoption can make a family whole. What Wally and Gracie were doing was taking their love and sharing it with the ducklings and bringing them all in to be something even greater together.  It was and it is beautiful. It is the most powerful and tangible testament I have ever witnessed to the strength of love that transcends common genes or preconceived ideas. Simply beautiful.

Even more amazing was witnessing Wally and Gracie staying with the ducks and refusing to leave them until finally they all left the pen together, single file, as Wally and Gracie walked them to their new home in the main chicken house.  Many weeks later and after a second hatching of more grey eggs, Wally and Gracie repeated this wonder, and with teenager black ducklings in tow, moved back into the pen with the newest black ducklings and absorbed the rest of the hatched black and emerald babies into their fold.

With all the black ducklings from two generations following behind them like a poultry Partridge Family, the new group that instead of two mix matched geese, is now the farm ‘Dugers’ spent their days roaming, foraging, swimming, finding worms and generally enjoying life, while spending their time quite separate from all the already existing 20+ ducks.  Every day when the chicken house doors would open and all the creatures fly off to different corners, the geese and black ducks would head off on their own, while the rest of the crowd of brown ducks, white ducks, mixes, Swedes and Harlequins would be in their own social groups like a high school lunch room.  They all existed peacefully and without incident without mixing or socializing together.  Equal but separate, and I thought this would be a perfectly fine and sustainable stalemate. This seemed like a reasonable part in the story of Wally and Gracie to hit a plateau and continue on until the horizon of who knows when.

I was wrong again.

Several weeks ago, as many of you know, the chicken house, home to almost a hundred chickens, adult turkeys, ducks and geese caught fire, and with devastating effect, took many lives with it. As soon as the fire was discovered, the front door of the chicken house was opened to let them out and away from the smoke and the fire that trapped so many of our beautiful birds that we will never see again. Every morning before that night, with the opening of the door after sunrise, chickens would come flying out the door like a scene out of Charlotte’s Web, followed by the slower parade of turkeys, ducks and geese. On this night, with the inside of the house already engulfed in flames, and filled with thick black smoke, birds can flying out…into the night…into the dark…into clean air…into the cold. Unlike any other exit from the building before, something miraculous emerged from the horror. With the opening of the door, every single duck, regardless of color or social group, young or old, injured, crippled…..all were pushed out of the house by two big geese with outstretched wings, who in spite of the black smoke that proved lethal inside, opened their lungs to call out and trumpet alarm as they pushed their whole family towards the door. Between the two of them, every single black duckling, white, cream, spotted, brown….all the ducks and geese got out safely thanks to Wally and Gracie. The loss for the evening was heartbreaking.  So many sweet and wonderful birds never to be seen again. It is still hard to think about, but I do, and I keep coming back to a story of love. A story of two broken hearts that came together to be whole. A love so big that it had room to add more, and in the most amazing and selfless gesture, these two beautiful birds opened their wings, their lungs and their hearts, to protect others.  I can’t get it out of my head and I hope I never do.  It is beautiful.  It is the silver lining to a very dark cloud, but magnificent nonetheless.

Living on a farm, and with the greater part of my time spent with animals instead of people, I sometimes questioned my sanity, for one, or whether or not I risk losing my balance or the ability to relate to people.  I wondered if I am missing out on the human interactions that define and shape us while we’re still ducklings trying to find our way in the world. I wondered if there is something human I am sacrificing for all my time spent in the company of creatures, watching and learning from teachers outside my species. I questioned myself and finally came to an answer. I don’t feel that way anymore. I have amazing teachers; two geese that have taught me everything I need to know about how to be good in the world, how love can grow and how much room a heart can have.

I thought it about time that I share it with the people I love, on a day when they deserve to be honored. To you Wally and Gracie: I am so proud to know you, to care for you, to watch you and to learn from you.  I love your love and what it has taught me.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you.

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Quiet

It’s so quiet. Sad quiet.  Amazing how animated and alive every second used to be. And now silence.  You wouldn’t think that you would be able to discern different voices, intonations, patterns and inflection, but like every social group, there are characters, and sometimes you know what’s going on just by tones, level and pitch.  Some days it sounded like a high school lunchroom cafeteria, and sometimes it sounded like a beauty parlor in the afternoon with a bunch of old ladies telling stories and griping, and other times it was a call of warning, or salutation to the sun, but it’s all silent now and with time, their voices and overheard conversations will fade in my memory. Even though they were turkeys and chickens, they were my friends.

Years ago, when after the death of my mother, I moved back to the farm, I decided I wanted to get chickens.  Chickens need a house and we had a beautiful former garage that for the last couple decades had just been a place where junk was stored, but still had perfect farm character and our signature white clapboard exterior with dark green trim. Thought it needed quite a bit of building restoration and a whole new roof, my dear friend and farm regular ‘City Chick’ and I responded to a Craigslist ad for a gentleman named ‘Bob’ who lived just over the river and had the largest selection of some of the more unique breeds of chickens that we saw in our newly purchased book on chicken breeds from Tractor Supply. Newbies that we were, I don’t think it even occurred to us to bring cages. We walked past pen after pen and it was like picking out individual chocolates to make a valentine box for yourself: “I’ll take 2 of the Blue Splash Orpingtons, 2 Marans, 3 speckled Sussex”, yes I’ll even take the one even Bob couldn’t identify (who became ‘Collette’), several Buff Orpingtons, a Turken (half chicken and half turkey), Barred Rocks, Black Copper (Martha Stewart’s favorite), Auracanas, Americanas, Leghorns….and a few ducks. We picked out so many birds and winded up taking them home in flimsy produce containers since we’d forgotten boxes. When we got back to the farm, it felt like Christmas as we unpacked them all and ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaah’d over them.

Bitten by the chicken-collecting bug, and after “City Chick” declared that picking out beautiful chickens was more satisfying than buying fancy shoes, what followed was a couple crazy “chicken” runs to the Bonne Terre Swap meet and Silex Swap, then a few orders of chicks from McMurray Hatchery and really unique eggs ordered by bids from Ebay to incubate in our brand new incubators. We were so excited.

I truly believe that the most beautiful art can be found in Mother Nature herself, and chickens are the walking supermodels of a farm. So many different colors, styles, patterns, angles, personality and fluff in different places, body styles and headdresses. As an artist, I fell in love with all the variety and details, but what sealed my devotion was just sitting and watching them on sunny days: their animation, their social groups, how they would congregate and then like a deck being reshuffled, all of a sudden be in a different grouping.  I likened it to the shifting alliances and friendships in any high school across American….you have the cool kids, the jocks, the pretty girls, the mean girls, the nerds, the kids who don’t care, the dramatic ones….it goes on and on, and our chickens were like watching a sociology study unfold. I couldn’t help but name them and to some degree anthropomorphize them. I loved to photograph them and introduce people to them. Especially kids.  I loved showing people all their beautifully colored eggs of white brown, pink, blue, green, terra cotta, grey, with speckles and splotches. I bragged that every day was an Easter Egg hunt, and it was.  That kid-like wonder never wore off when it came time to gather up the day’s eggs.

Over the years, our neighbors have fallen in love with our flock too. Neighbor Joshua and his family would come over all the time to see the chickens and years back, we gave him our incubators so he could take our prettiest eggs and hatch them.  If you give Joshua and Jay-bird eggs, he gets 95% of them to hatch because unlike pretty much anybody else in the history of ever, he loves the bird in the egg even before it hatches. When he has eggs, he’s by the incubator hand rolling the eggs just right because he doesn’t trust an incubator to properly manage the shape of the egg in relation to the air pocket inside and how the chicken is situated within (probably like the obsessive first time soon-to-be-moms who play ‘Baby Mozart’ on headphones pressed up to their bellies in the last months of pregnancy). Because we didn’t separate our flock by breed, Joshua hatched some of the most beautiful chicken ‘mutts’ from our birds…so extraordinary and unique. He then moved on to the turkey and duck eggs, where he and his family fell in love with turkeys specifically.  We host a big Easter Egg hunt every year and for the past several years, just in time for the party, Joshua and his wonderful wife and kids have hatched our chicken, turkey and duck eggs for the full baby animals Easter experience.

Dear friend Bob and his wife and daughter also fell in love with the chickens. They soon began a flock of their own with some of our birds and then later swapping back and forth.  Here’s a fundamental chicken truth: Once you have a chicken, it’s hard to stop with one.  If you don’t believe me, go look at Bob’s back yard…they even added a miniature pig (jury is still out on whether they would take that back if they could). J

As far as neighbors go, you don’t even have to decide to start your own flock to be a chicken enthusiast. Neighbor Cathy, in response to a raccoon serial poultry killer on the loose in the area, decided to take matters in her own hands and bought a cedar shed off of Craigslist (and now named “Jaeger’s Eggers), and with the help of neighbor Bob, had it brought to the farm and placed so that again the flock could be safe while neighbors Bob, Mike and Joshua could hunt down the predator.

Neighbor Julie loves the chickens so much that almost weekly she brings a 4 x 4 trunk full of leftover food pantry bread for the flock, while brand new neighbor Connie weekly drops off slightly over-ripe produce also for the birds. Neighbors Charlie and Jody save their scraps, as do next door neighbors Lynne and Vinnie.  Loving chickens is contagious, and this has spread to so many people, and in the process has made us all feel more like a family. These happy and beautiful chickens were so loved and benefited so much from all the humans who’s hearts they had captivated.  I even think all that love made their feathers prettier, the twinkle in their eyes brighter, and anyone can attest that  whenever the flock saw people, they would go running to greet them.  Photographers would schedule photo shoots just so people could visit with them, in hopes of being ‘photo-bombed’ by our friendly birds.

I could go on and on, but unfortunately this story does not.

Here’s the part where it gets really real: a young man on his way home from work notices something that doesn’t look right as he drives by the farm.  He does something extraordinary, and instead of shrugging it off, he turns around and at the closed gates of the farm, he begins running towards the farm house to tell people inside that a building is on fire. As “Farm Mom” Alanna comes to the door and says that the red light he sees is from a heat lamp, he says “No, It’s on fire”. Barefoot, she, her husband Mike and this young man run towards the chicken house, and Alanna immediately runs to open the door, as ducks pushed out by geese “Wally” and “Gracie” come barreling out, followed by a flurry of chickens.  This young man and this wonderful friend try the other door and call for help, while trying to do everything they can as both Nick and I arrive.  Water hoses are stretched out and water sprayed on the roof, but do little while we wait for firetrucks from 3 municipalities arrived. Outside the burning building were neighbors and friends who came running to help.  In the cold late night, there was Cathy and Connie there to do what they could….more people still walking down the street. It was horrific. The building was completely filled with black smoke and Alanna in gulped breaths tells me how opening the door was followed by a mass bird exodus.  Staying out of the way, I went around the back of the greenhouse to get to the birds now gathered pushed up against the garden fence, who are now in a path for all the heavy wafting black smoke.  I am worried that unless I personally push them into the garden, they won’t be able to get far enough from the smoke and can be asphyxiated from where they are in the open air.  As I am looking frantically around inside the garden fence, I can see Wally and Gracie and all the ducks.  I can see chickens but as I begin to count, I keep stopping at 14. There were at least 100 more bird inside than what I am seeing.  Here’s where it hurts….when your mind is ahead of itself and it knows where it’s going and protects you from what you aren’t ready to accept: My heart hurt but my brain said “these are the not-so-smart 14, and the rest got far enough away and are spread out in the greenhouse, the back of the green house, moving to the bottom of the 6 car to roost for the night until things calm down….in the light of dawn, they all be walking around out front wondering what’s the new plan”. My brain believed that but my heart did not, and the fire still raged. We rounded up all the birds we could find and put them safely inside Cathy’s shed with bedding, food and water.

Nick and I returned home with smoke in our lungs, adrenaline still pumping, tired bodies and broken hearts to pretend to sleep until the light of dawn revealed what the cover of smoke and night concealed. As pink fingers of daylight crept over the charred remains, one chicken walked frantically back and forth in front of what was never to be a building or a home again.  Inside the broken beams and hull of his home lay the scattered bodies of the chickens and turkeys that ran out of time. Pompeii…Ground Zero….life extinguished right in the middle of living. Destruction of everything without discrimination, and so much ripped away so quickly.  It’s hard to let that all in and process it.  See it, feel it, smell it and accept that it is unchangeable and that it is a pain and sadness that is waiting to pound its way into your consciousness and boomerang back and forth inside your heart like shards of glass.  Shards of glass tipped with sunlight, and reflecting back the beautiful patterns and colors and angles of all those wonderful innocent creatures that are no more. I have spent the last several days going over and over everything in my mind and looking at photos like someone in New York on September 12 . As I look at photos, I see “Mabel” and put her in the category of ‘didn’t make it out’, and I go on through the list and the photos, each time feeling the scrape of the glass inside my heart. I think what drops me to my knees more than anything else is looking at the photo of my turkey named “Hugo”.  She was an egg that we donated to a school for kids to hatch and that was brought back to the farm with the rest of the classroom hatched offspring.  She was a gawky tall-necked kiddo with astonishingly bright blue eyes and she reminded me of a children’s book character, so I named her “Hugo”. Weeks and months passed as she grew and presented compelling evidence that she was most definitely a girl, but she was still my “Hugo” and the name stuck. She was 100% a farm creation and she was my girl. Lovingly hatched by Joshua and family, Alanna’s pet turkey girls and “Amigo” the Tom turkey all bear “Hugo’s blue eyes.

I look through their photos and am filled with sadness not only for them but also for all the people who loved them, smiled because of them and came together because of them. There is now a the family of people and neighbors that have grown closer because of the chickens who touched their hearts. Even without the chickens, that love remains, and if you’re not crying already, as the light of the next day revealed the lone rooster pacing in front of the lost home, cars and trucks began arriving….the human family of these chickens arrived one by one.  No call was placed. Nobody was asked to come, and yet one by one they arrived with their families, friends and tools, trailers, Bobcats, food, supplies, materials, love and the gift of their time. By 2pm on Sunday, just a mere few hours after the last curls of smoke, the building was taken down and the site cleared, and a temporary safe enclosure pen and home for the birds that survived.

I haven’t known what to say in these last couple of days that would do justice to what has happened.  Because my best friend has a heart that you could park Texas inside and still have room for Russia, Canada and China, “Farm Mom” Alanna built a ‘GoFundMe’ website so people could contribute to helping us recover.  The outpouring of love and support has given me the strength to finally find my voice and tell you that this shared kindness has the power to heal. What I also want to tell you is that the human family of these birds; our friends and neighbors – Bob and Mike made a dumpster appear by early hours of Monday morning and disappearing fully loaded less than 24 hours later….that wonderful Bob (with the help of his wife, father and Frank) has unselfishly given the better part of his work week to remove ALL of the debris….(and with the help of neighbor Tony), ALL of it, and also lay down a fresh floor of white rock over what used to be a home, so that as we continue on with life and care for the remaining birds, each pass by the site wouldn’t rip open our hearts. They have taken it upon themselves to start the process to make good things happen in the face of adversity and with the things they can each do, take us closer back to those sunlit days of beauty and life.  There is no finer gift in life than to be surrounded by people then when you fall to your knees, they take turns out in front and get you dusted off and back standing tall.  I am blessed and I can see that even in loss, there is honor that it will not be forgotten but will one day be better.

 

It is quiet but it is not the end…..Sitting on my kitchen counter is the basket of eggs collected Saturday early evening.  I have looked at them and thought that they are too precious and too sacred to eat or discard.  They have been a source of pain….these final colored gifts from my beautiful birds.  I live my life by a famous quote of Anais Nin who said “The Universe shrinks or expands in proportions to one’s courage” and tonight I found mine. Out of the darkness there is light, and in these eggs are hopefully a few brave new chickens, that with the help and love of neighbor Joshua, are meant to be the pioneers of what their parents left behind before leaving this world. There are still dark days of winter ahead, there will be reminders and hurt, but I choose to tilt my head towards the light and wait to see what colors and patterns and shapes will come in the rebirth that is Spring on a farm.

Thank you. Heartfelt thank you.

Post Ferguson – Spotlight on crowd in North County

It’s a Saturday night, a crowd is gathered in North County, lights flashing, emotions run high and it’s hard to hear the individual voices as the mass of people seem to be in constant movement. People from all over have gathered for the shared element that draws them together to raise their voices and let the world know to keep it’s eyes on what the Huffington post has called “The new Baghdad”.
It began early in the afternoon, as people arrived one by one. All walks of life from all over the city. As the sun set and lights came on, the mood of the crowd shifted. There were no news camera crews, no major network coverage, and yet when the crowd was fully assembled, there was no police force on hand, despite the flashing lights. The crowd, already to their feet, fists pumping in the air, let out a collective yell as these words were spoken:
Can everyone join me in a big round of applause and welcome onto the dance floor for the first time, Mr. And Mrs. Paul Warren. The crowd squealed and swarmed the dance floor, arms raised in the bring lights. the stayed from very beginning to end at a simple farm wedding in North County St. Louis. Yeah….North County…..every weekend. Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to that.
I wonder what other great things are happening in the rest of North County despite the lack of media coverage.
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The agricultural timetable and magic of chickens

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Each night after the sun sets, Nick and I look forward to heading over to the farm to tuck our sweet little flock of hens to sleep for the night. If you have never spent time around chickens, which I would imagine most people have not, they are the true keepers of the agricultural timetable. The watchtowers of farm life; letting farmers around the world know when to wake up to start their day and with their quitting time at the setting of the sun, we too are reminded that after the light is gone, to quiet down, perch ourselves for the evenings and get some sleep before we start it all again with the rise of the sun tomorrow morning.
Following the lead of chickens has been an effort at times. I don’t consider myself a morning person, but rather more of a night owl (hmmmm…..another bird analogy). I find I get more down when the world is quiet and the phone and e-mails trickle and disappear. I can focus and relax knowing that everyone and everything I care about is tucked away and is safe on my watch. I like the night time and find my creativity is at its highest in the late night hours. Although I have always loved this time, a group of about 156 hens have wooed me over to the value of hitting the hay at a reasonable hour to be rested and ready to enjoy the spectacle of the sun as she spreads her long red and apricot fingers to slowly crawl up over the horizon at the confluence. Being able to witness this is one of the more magical things one could expect to see in their lifetime…I have the chance every morning. As soon as the light creeps slowly up the bluffs and across the grass, I can hear the roosters crowing as herald of the new day. The hens begin their clucking and pecking and the rest of the farm awakens.
One of my other favorite chicken rituals to witness is the roosting call again from the roosters. As the sun slowly fades and it’s time to come inside, the boys stand watch at the door of the coop and take shifts summoning everyone back inside to safety. It reminds me of a movie of medieval times as the sentry on the tower, watching out over the fields, sounds the alarm for the approach of the unknown. Every night the rooster who calls the hens inside changes but each s equally focused on being the last inside after all the ladies are safely tucked in and on their appropriate perch for the evening.
Just after the sun has set, baskets in hand, we walk inside to see them all aloft, as if a chicken Omnimax movie is about to start, and in this quiet unfrantic time, we refill water and food, and most importantly, collect the days eggs. It’s like my favorite Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day”, where he relives the same day over and over again, but for me it is like being 6 and hunting for colored Easter eggs and trying to find the most. I never get sick of the satisfaction of filling my basket with all the colors, and then boxing them up beautifully to share.
Maybe I am too much of an artist or romantic or just sensitive “Farm Girl”, and I know most people don’t know the beauty these chickens witness in the course of a day, but I am convinced that I can taste it in their eggs. Just taking them back home for myself feels like I treated myself to something succulent from Dean and Deluca. Whether they’re destined to be baked or scrambled, when I crack them open and see that beautiful marigold sun spill out of the shell and into my mixing bowl and I need no other proof. Every bit of that perfect day made it into that egg. Absolutely it did!
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