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Chicken House

Fall honey is different than early-season honey. Some have likened the smell of the former to dirty gym shoes. Fall honey is complex, intense, rich as butter, and a stark contrast to its light, delicate, exquisitely floral spring counterpart. Fall honey is my favorite. I have always loved the underdog.

Maybe it’s because of the fleeting nature of the second harvest, how you have to catch the flow at just the right time, and how much different it will taste with only a week’s fluctuation. I was behind in my rhythm this year, but I did manage to benefit from an excess of goldenrod and aster honey from my late season foragers. Six gallons of butterscotch vanilla goodness: an unexpected gift.

As the goldenrod and asters bowed in faded bloom, I received another unexpected gift. My faithful egg customers and friends left a magnificent barn wood “Chicken House” sign on my front porch. Along with the sign was a framed photograph of the original Chicken House, a tiny place in history somewhere, some time ago, where someone had kept chickens.

As are most, this past year has been one of sorrow and celebration, with new paths and new life, and not without the loss of what felt like destiny as much as a dream.

Some days, I don’t feel much like a chicken keeper anymore. I walk the same path to open the coop doors each morning, resetting the waterers and filling the feeders before returning to a quiet house. There have been days when I, lost in my own thoughts, have forgotten to acknowledge the sunrise sky. There have been days, too, when I have only visited the coop to open and close the doors—no scraps to throw, no eggs to gather, no time for chicken antics.

I gave money back to a new honey customer this year who did not like the fall honey. Most people do seem to prefer the lighter, earlier gatherings. This makes me wonder, when I think too hard, if somehow nobody will ever like my honey again, and if perhaps I am an imposter beekeeper after all.

My first granddaughter was born just weeks ago. She’s tiny, sweet-smelling, and more perfect than I could have imagined. Sometimes I wonder if I am worthy of this new role. After all, I’m still over here being called words by an unraveled nine-year-old—words that I had not even heard until I was twice his age.

We hung the framed photograph of the chicken house from long ago in our guest bedroom so farm visitors might appreciate the tiny piece of undocumented chicken-keeping history. The weathered barn wood sign looks as if it was made to hang on our coop. Our friends’ kind gesture reminded me that even when there are no eggs and when time is short, I am still a chicken keeper. That magic of the first egg returns each time there is an egg in the nest box, even if it’s a solitary, sloppy, muddy offering in the chill of midwinter.

On this New Year’s Day visit to the apiary, I felt warmth and heard buzzing from all seven of my hives. They must be enjoying their abundant stores of fall honey as much as I am. And I have a feeling that 2024 will be a good year for my bees with plenty of that delicate early season honey for the others.

As the seasons change, we sometimes lose sight of who we are and what we have been. Maybe we need those reminders every so often that we still are all of those things. They are what make us who we are, and though the eggs may sometimes be sparse and the honey may temporarily smell like a gym locker, the faces and the kindness of others remind us what we need to know.

One day soon I’ll dress my granddaughter in the tiniest bee suit. Maybe she’ll come with me to check on the bees. I’ll give her a little basket for gathering eggs from the nest boxes in the chicken house. Together, we’ll be beekeepers, chicken keepers, and a whole lot of other things.

Happy New Year with deep gratitude for all those who make this farm, this community, and this earth a better place.

Thank you❤️

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