Four new baby chicks will be coming to the farm this spring. By the end of the summer, these new girls should be laying eggs alongside our other hens.
Hens lay eggs. Roosters don’t.
I was careful to repeat my request several times to the gentleman that was taking my order: “all females…two of each.” This time, I chose a hatchery out of Ohio as the birthplace of my chickens. It didn’t seem to be much of a factor at the time, but last year, when I picked up my “reserved pullets” from the local feed store, I also chose a few extra from the “I’m pretty sure those are females, too, bin.” I guess that is where things went wrong, or at least took a bit of a detour.
We usually kept the door closed to the main bathroom at our old house in town. This sometimes confused people, as there were several similar doors in a small corner of the house. Each led somewhere, but we thought our guests would benefit from a telltale sign on the bathroom door, so they could be sure. I found a small vintage wooden sign with a raised image of a little child on a chamber pot. It was perfect, and nobody ever asked where the bathroom was again.
When we moved to the farm, I brought the little sign along and attached it to the guest bathroom door. It looks as though it has been there forever, although it hasn’t.
It had been a pretty good day until, at some point, something didn’t happen the right way. There was warfare of the sort of whatever was in his reach being catapulted at whoever was in striking distance. Thankfully, the afternoon’s biggest casualty was the relatively new Oscar the Grouch garbage can which now slumps slightly sideways and no longer closes properly.
Nobody would know that my little sign had previously announced another bathroom in a different house, and that I had simply mounted it here using double sided tape. Nobody knows where it’s first home was, and if there were many places between.
People that I don’t know certainly remember the little sign from one place or another, but nobody knows it’s whole story. In some ways, now, the story of the bathroom chamber pot sign starts here, with my family. We cannot properly honor what we don’t know. Still, though, we can know that there was something before, perhaps even a long, hard, road, which cannot be separated from today.
Wendell has not been his usual self since he was attacked, innocently enough, by the dog. He had always been a great protector of the hens, but he had also been inquisitive, guardedly social, and the first chicken running to check for leftover cat food when allowed to range free. He let Aaron tote him around, and he only used his “power of intimidation” when he must have really felt at risk, as when someone ran at him while wearing red shoes.
Now, though, there is much more to his story. Yes, he has a few black spots on his comb where the harsh winter left it’s mark. But deeper and not visible to the eye, is that which cannot be seen but is very much there, and that which changes everything.
I am on guard now as I gather eggs or throw feed, and the children must be aware of where Wendell is at all times. Wendell moves to attention when I enter the coop, and he watches with a new hypervigilance my every move. And I am just a bit scared of Wendell. Several times, now, he has flown up to me in fight mode. I feed him, I take care of him, I love him, and still, I am afraid.
The black spots tell of frostbite. Something happened. But what about when we can’t tell, when the pain of past trauma is deep and, though it affects my child’s every step, nobody really knows. There are no words or warnings, no tangible reasons, just emotions. And there is a story, never to be told.
This morning’s sky was as bold an azure blue as ever I had seen; it looked like some sort of surreal stage curtain draped behind the used-to-be white farmhouse on what might be the last unbearably cold day in this long winter. Beauty could still be found in the bitterness. We, along with the chickens, have made it through the worst part of this season. The chickens have survived their first Midwest winter, but not without a little evidence of frostbite.
The “chicken experts” advise carrying an aggressive rooster around to ease his combative behavior. Likewise, we carry on, continuing to support our children through their own angst and battles, with reverence to the unknown, and while looking forward to the new season which will, inevitably, bare its freshness when we need it most.