the beak that stalks at midnight

Today started out blowy and icky but developed into lovely sunshine. The day was spent outside: first a visit to the college for a festival, then doing the various and sundry outdoor chores at my home. We tidied the greenhouse and watered the tomatoes (sure to develop into Audrey II-level insatiable plants), cleaned the chicken coops, and my favorite: put the seven chickens out into their tractor where they immediately went crazy eating clover, searching for bugs, and ruffling feathers in exorbitant-looking dirt-baths.

The younger five birds haven’t spent much time with the older laying hens. Things seemed to go well at first. Then, looking out from my kitchen window I saw Sophie – the hen most badly injured in the dog attack – her neck ruff out, head up, aggressively messing with one of the (suspected) cockerels – who probably started it, knowing that little dude. My first emotion is one of gladness – my girls have fully recovered. Then I’m thinking – pain in the ass. The birds will have to take their fresh air in shifts.

“Sophie! [ the child ],” I call. “Come help me. We’ve got to take Sophie and Bluster out of the tractor.”

“Why?” The kids come running from outside where they had been playing some game in the car, Nels resplendent in a teal-green formal gown, his shoes shed as soon as we’d reached home the hour earlier.

“The older ones are messing with the younger ones.”

The kids join me in the yard. They know chicken behavior and understand the group dynamics. I carefully lift an edge of the tractor to cull one of the older ones. Bluster emerges first. “Aw mom, she’s the hardest one to catch!” Sophie complains. Sure enough, the little devil races around the yard, looking hilariously streamlined and speedy. Nels directs us and we finally trap her near the fence corner. She, then her aggressive cohort, are returned to their own coop with fresh water and food.

Our job finished, my daughter says, “OK, I’m going to go back to living in the car,” and grabs a bottle of water.

“Wash your hands first. You carried a chicken.”

“How come I have to wash my hands?”

“You could get a chicken disease.”

“What happens if you do?”

I’m not entirely sure. “You can get terrible diarrhea. And … um, bad abdominal cramps.”*

“What else?” Sophie asks.

“And then you have to go to the doctor to get shots.” (safe bet)

“Does anything… chickeny happen?” she asks.

“You mean do you act like a chicken if you get a disease from a chicken?”

“Yes,” she says.

“No,” I respond, trying not to laugh.


* I’m remembering a story a girlhood friend told me about her father who supposedly developed a Salmonella infection and had intestinal problems so horrid they later cleaned the upholstery he sat on. I still see this man and serve him lunch at the Deli and I always think of this story.

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