All This Stuff

Where did all this stuff come from?

It was with great pride that a year or so ago, we downsized from a big house to a small house and got rid of tons of accumulated stuff.  We had too much storage capacity in that house.  And we filled it all up over the 13 years we lived there.

It got gross.  I was ashamed of the excess.  It felt GREAT to get it all out of the house and recirculating in the world.  I like to think a lot of it ended up in the hands of people who could use it.

And even though there were still a lot of boxes left without a place to go when we moved, it was a huge improvement.

It’s been only a year, and it seems to have happened again.  Too much stuffEverywhere.

closet“A place for everything, and everything in its place.” they say.  Who are “they”?  I need “them” here.  Save me.

Part of it has been the absorbing of two of our kids’ childhoods.  Our two oldest daughters have been shedding their high school and college lives into our garage and loft.  Both are establishing more grown-up digs, and the dried up corsages, photo collages, decorated coffee mugs and club t-shirts didn’t make the cut.  But they’re too precious to throw out, so they stay in boxes….on the landing….then in a stack in the corner…to go to the garage…but the mice may find it there.  So it lands and stays.
foldedPlus, the two younger kids – now in high school – are growing like weeds.  I mean to say, tall weeds.  Each has changed sizes in the year since we moved here, so there are clothes everywhere. For each item that is too small, there was one last wear, following by one last laundering….which landed it in a folded pile…which returned to the bedroom, and stayed in a stack.  Wearable items were grabbed from below it, and above it, and it eventually fell to the floor….where it was mistaken for dirty laundry and send back for yet another laundering. And it never escapes the cycle.

Summer clothes suffer the same fate when the weather turns cold. They stay in the “current” pile. Until neglect sends them to the dreaded floor where they are eventually scooped up and laundered again.

And socks.  Who hasn’t suffered from odd half-life of socks? Once divided, never reunited. Socks are not monogamous…so they end up in a disgusting sock-orgy – now two feet deep –  that no one wants to sort out.  Every time I hear a kid holler, “I just need a pair of black socks!” I want to throw my head back and scream.  But instead I manage a chuckle and I shake my head.  Because I know it is one of those life truths that few can escape.

IMG_0005Then there are the towels that become “dog towels” in our house.  Even though I can’t remember the last time we dried a wet dog with one.  Turns out wet dogs do dry on their own on a farm.  Yet the dog towels make it to a stack anyway.  Where they are grabbed when the “good towels” are gone.  The dog towels never really die.

clutterAnd part of the clutter is paper.  School handouts. Church bulletins. Mail.  In stacks. Bills that get paid on-line automatically, mixed with unique and interesting bills that haven’t been set up that way.  And catalogs that have one cool thing in them we might need.  Coupons that arrive the day after an errand to that very place.  Statements that aren’t invoices.  And magazines. For history buffs, hunters, homemakers, health nuts and sports fans. None of whom have the time to read them.  I look forward to the day when I can soak up a magazine the day it arrives.  That will be a good day.

But how to motivate the crew to move these mountains….

I think I’ll stage a disaster.  Like a flood.  Genius.

Now, I hesitate to make light of such a thing.  I have a dear friend whose life was profoundly changed by the devastation of a flood.  They lost almost everything.  But then again, they didn’t. It’s worth thinking about.

So what would happen if I woke the kids in the middle of the night and shouted at them that we have two hours to load up the truck with anything they want to save from the rising river.  That’ll thin things out.  I’ll donate anything they don’t load in that truck.

Hurry hurry hurry!  I’ll shout.  The river is flooding!  Pack your stuff!  We only have two hours to get outta here! If you’ll need it in the next year, grab it!  This is it, guys! Chop chop!  Everything in the truck! Let’s go!

Wait a sec.

I know what’ll happen. Bleary eyed, they’ll groan…  Mom, you always say ‘We don’t care about stuff’.  So jus’ wake me in two hours before we have to leave…

…snoring resumes.

That’s it.  They’re right.  

It can all go.

That Feeling

In a conversation with one of our kids this morning, I was reminded of a feeling I haven’t felt for a long, long time.

It was the feeling you have when you arrive home after a first date.  When the conversation was relaxed and varied and long and natural.  When the evening was punctuated with tiny discoveries of common interests. When care was given in the form of a jacket over shivering shoulders or a cup of coffee to help the evening last longer.  The nervous, sweet smiles at the end, and the decision whether or not to kiss.  Or hug. The thud of the door and the breaking out of a grin of satisfaction.  And anticipation, too.

I haven’t had that particular feeling for about 25 years.  I was able to recall it, though.  And it felt great.

How handy that we can conjure up those feelings.  It’s one of the joys of parenthood.  Even though you suffer with your kids when they experience the pain of rejection or disappointment or even cruelty, you can also use their life experiences to re-connect with moments you might have otherwise forgotten.

There’s the feeling of finishing a thing.  Like finishing school.  Leaving the last final exam and wanting to run outside and twirl around like Maria in the Sound of Music.  And burn my entire backpack.  Getting outside somewhere…anywhere…and throwing my head back and heaving a giant sigh. Sun on my face.  Palpable freedom.  And the profound relief that a thing is complete.

Or the feeling on the eve of the first day at school.  Or a new job.  When my clothes are carefully laid out and two alarms are set.  Everything is shiny and new.  Full of potential.  Full of energy.  Lying in bed, flat on my back, wide awake and ready.  All set.  Here we go. I must sleep.

The feeling I had when I first referred to John as “my husband”.  That wave of warmth.  An arrival at a grown-up place.  The feeling of knowing we were a unit.  A tiny family.  Tied to one another in the most important way.  We’d chosen one another.  And committed to love one another.  We were “us” forever more.  My husband, John.  I still feel that warmth when I say it.  It’s not a new feeling anymore, but it is still full of warmth and gratitude.

c section 1Meeting your baby.  Gazing and breathing-in the warmth of the sweet bundle.  No words.  Just rushing wave of care and hope. Desperate love.  A desire to be all things for this little person.  And then the profound first look into John’s eyes – both now having seen what we’d been given – overwhelmed with pure joy and awe at it.
And then there are the moments that take my breath away more as I grow older. Like the feeling when you see someone you’ve been waiting for.  The tilt of the head and the widespread arms.  At an airport. Or a funeral.  A reunion.  The feeling of collapse and surrender to the meaning in that relationship.  To what it’s been through and what it stands for.  Letting the love of a relationship swirl around you and hold you snug.

The feeling of anticipation.  The days leading up to a trip or the day of a gathering with my friends and family.  Anticipation of a big game.  Or the arrival of a box of baby chicks.

And the feeling of serenity.  That you’re doing your best, and that you have love in your life.  An unhurried cup of coffee with John. The feeling of certainty about more things, and appreciation for more things.  The feeling I have what I need to sort through the future.

The feeling I have right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packages

“Did you open the package from your sister?”

What package?”

In our house, the mail travels in a stack, landing where ever the family carrier lands. On the floor by the couch, on the bathroom counter, the dining room table….even the barn. We’ve missed wedding invitations, registered mail, Christmas cards, and countless bills this way. But nothing flips me out more than to think I’ve missed a package. Even at work, I get a little excited when I see a package on my desk. It generally ends up being a random desk accessory or a coffee mug from some consultant, but the appearance of the package gives me a lift nonetheless.

Everyone shops on-line these days. I admit I love it. Not only do I avoid the dreaded mall (six years in retail will do that do you), but it invites the arrival of packages. This is a time when my short-term memory loss is a delight. When I first see a package has arrived, I’ve forgotten what I ordered. So there’s a temporary thrill of anticipation when I grab the box and shake it. And that thrill lasts until it eventually dawns on me that “Oh…this is Louie’s shoulder brace.”  Or “…Liza’s prom shoes.” No treats for me until my annual order of black yoga pants arrives from Lands’ End.

The older we get, the rarer packages-with-real-potential become.

So at 52, you can imagine how my heart skipped a beat when John said I had a package from my sister.

My sisters are great. I have four of them. They are each crazy-successful people who have scads of wonderful interests. From roasting their own coffee to tracking raptors with bird scopes. From deep exploration of the arts to training service dogs. They are creative, busy and ambitious. They are independent, clever and hilarious. They are so different from one another and I love each one. In fact, when our first daughter was born, I prayed and prayed for another girl. I wanted her to have a sister. I knew she needed one. Women who don’t have a sister need to find one in a friend. Sisters are critical to survival.

John fetched the package for me and laid it carefully on my lap. It was wrapped in folds of white tissue with a sticker on the front with my name on it: “Kris”.

Ahhhh. Kris.

Not the Kristi of college and beyond.

But Kris. The growing-up-when-all-my-sisters-were-home name.

I peeled back the tissue, expecting to see a lovely scarf. (My sister has such good taste.)   Or maybe a spa accessory. (She likes to send indulge-yourself gifts.) Or perhaps something with a farm theme…in honor of our recent move to the country.

What is it?

I caught a peek of something familiar. A small dark green and golden box of…..crayons. And another box. Of elegant colored pencils. With their own sharpener. And two…beautiful…coloring books.

There was a feeling inside of me that swooshed me back 40 years. A feeling of giddy delight at the prospect of my own, clean, perfect, beautiful coloring books. With fresh, perfect crayons and pencils. I gasped. It actually made me well up. I hugged them to me.

My 15-year-old daughter bounced onto the bed next to me and said, “COOL! I want these!”

I instinctively turned my back to her, clutching the bundle tightly to my chest, proclaiming, “No! MINE!” then laughing out loud at myself.

I meant it though. Mine.

untitledI remembered how a sister might occasionally allow me to color one page of a precious book. But only a boring page. One requiring only a couple of colors. Like an elephant. Or a whale. Something a clumsy younger sister couldn’t easily ruin by going outside the lines or something. Of course, they would save the pages with butterflies or flowers for themselves. Who wouldn’t?

Boring. Living on the scraps of the coloring book world.

When a coloring book was all yours it was the best…thing…ever.

I was the youngest. No, wait. I am the youngest. Always will be.

And these coloring books my Big Sister gave me were mine. I was 8 again.

And it felt really, really good.

(Thanks, Poopy.)

imagesCAJQ8EYV

Pioneer

Author’s Note:  I wrote the following post in May, 2015. I decided not to share it because it seemed discouraging somehow   It’s OK now.  What we dreaded has happened.  And we’re broken-hearted…but that’s not all.      

KAM November 2015

——

I’m about to lose a friend.

Not today. Not tomorrow. But too soon.

And when she leaves us, there will be a big, giant hole for a lot of people. A vacuum.

I hesitate to write about it though, because that makes it pretty real. I think the reason I feel calm about her illness at this particular moment is that talking to her feels really normal. While she has profoundly changed, she hasn’t changed at all. I look at her with her kerchief covering  her baldish head, and I know she’s suffering. She’s thin, but I watched her get there, and she was thin to begin with. So her physical appearance is what you might expect when you arrive unannounced on a Sunday morning for a cup of coffee. Good friends can look like that for each other and it looks good. Relaxed. Even centered.

And she is. Centered, I mean. Thrown right into her center. Everything becomes crystal clear. Miraculous and terrible all at the same time. Tender and sweet. Gnarly and bitter. At turns. Right in the center. The junk falls away and we are left with what really matters. And we hang on tight to it.

For me, it’s the normalcy I am hanging on to. The calm exchanges, the rolling of eyes, the bursting out of laughter, the shaking of heads….and the “ah ha” of a new idea or a new way of looking at something. There are moments later when I think about our time together and I realize drama wouldn’t really fit. This soft continuation fits.

It’s honest, to be sure. We talk about what’s coming. We know it and we hate it, and we’re not avoiding it. We’re just not letting it take over all of our moments. I’m soaking them up and realizing I’ll need to remember it all well. Like a conversation on the way to the airport before a long journey. You have goodbyes to say, but it seems fine to talk about the traffic or the weather….we’re together for a few more minutes and what we want is calm closeness. Not drama and tears and panic.

I admit it’s been distracting when she’s had to be attached to the oxygen. “The leash.” And when she’s taken it off for a break, I notice when she reaches to put it back on. I know then she has weakened in that moment and it’s been invisible to me. She’s hanging on, right there before my eyes and I suddenly feel like my oxygen is running out, too.

I’m not the main player in this real-life drama. Her husband and kids and dad and sisters are. She’s not mine. She’s theirs. I know she loves me. She knows I love her. This cruel turn has intensified the feelings of love among all our friends. Life threatening illnesses will do that.

There’s a small gang of us. We’ve all been banged up or scared or tired or sad over the years. But the network of “us” always picks it up. We’re each strong for the others. The collective strength – which is considerable – pulls us through. We’re not casual friends. This is the real deal. Our love and care for one another comes from genuine respect. Sincere admiration. We’re different from each other. More different that some might think. Maybe that’s part of what makes each one a precious stone in the collection. There is unwavering faith in one another. Hope for one another.

We laugh a ton. Way more than we cry. We cry a little, too, though. I venture to guess we cry for one another even more when we’re apart. We pair off and cry sometimes, too. Then we come back strong and mighty and able to laugh.

All of us are married. All of us have kids. Our families get it. They see us go to the well for a drink of this friendship (and usually a beer or a glass of wine) and they get it. I think our spouses appreciate the help. We’re each a handful, I think, and it takes a village to be married to us. Not that we’re bad spouses….just that we’re passionate and capable and dealing with full plates and bursting hearts all the time. Our kids see what an integral part of life friendships must be and how we don’t choose between family and friends. They are wholly interwoven and each strengthens the other.

So we are facing a rearrangement. A crushing change. We hate it and we’re not accustomed to being unable to battle a bad thing. We’ve learned how to handle a lot of things together. Shaky marital moments. Teenagers. The loss of a parent. Board rooms. Betrayals. Exhaustion. Now this. It’s humbling and terrible. We’re angry and sad. We know we’re mortal and we’ll all face our end in turn. It’s not that. It’s just that it’s too soon. And no one should be first.

So what’s this going to be like? Well I know “us”, and if there’s a best way to face it, we’ll shoot for that. I know there will be a great gift exchange. To her and to each other. Not the kind with packages and neat bows.   Gifts like courage and strength. Tears and laughter. Calmly. Gently. Lovingly. Led by our friend who is full of what it takes. She will remind us we have it, too. We will take our cues from her. She is the pioneer, going where we’ll go. She will be honest and natural. Trustworthy and serene. There will be smiles of gratitude all around.

Gratitude. That’s my choice. I choose to be grateful and to let that push away my dread. I know this friendship is a great gift. I don’t want it to end, but it will be more than enough. More than most people ever experience. And the effects of it are everlasting.

I am grateful.

Ethnic Envy

I have ethnic envy.

I’m proud of my roots….I just don’t know quite what they are.  When asked about my ancestry, I tend to give a vague combo answer like “Irish-English-Scottish” or something similar. Growing up, my family’s “ethnic food” was tuna casserole.  For generations, my people have enjoyed jello with sliced bananas floating in a delicious layer.  And gravy.

In my young adult life, I found myself yearning for an identity to some specific spot on the planet.  Someplace with colorful traditional garments, raucous dances, or unique holiday traditions.

So you can imagine my wild anticipation at the prospect of marrying an Italian.  (Yes, there’s Irish in his blood lines, too, but isn’t everyone part Irish?)  I’ll admit most of my impressions of Italians came from the Godfather movies, but the music, the food, the landmarks, and the accent were a feast for a mutt like me, and I looked forward to being part of the clan.

My first Thanksgiving was at Uncle Victor’s house.  So Italian.  Two big families, three generations (with the fourth on the way) and lots of hugging and loud conversations.  The kitchen was chaotic.  Chopping, slicing, sizzling and stirring.  Foil-covered trays coming in and out of the oven, and pots of stuff simmering on the stove.

I’m no cook.  Not even close.  I was at a loss in this whirl of activity.  No jello molds in sight.  Fortunately, little was expected of me, except that I keep a glass of wine in my hand and retrieve the occasional oven mitt or a plate from a high shelf.    It seemed like hours before we finally trickled into the dining room and found a seat at the long table outfitted mostly in wine glasses of every shape and layers of plates at each place.

A salad started things off.  Gorgeous, abundant salad with a perfect Italian dressing, of course.  Wine to match it, and soft, lovely rolls to accompany it.

And then, with great fanfare, Amelia – a warm, smiling, classic Italian Ma’-ma – paraded in with a giant, piping hot pan of her famous manicotti.  This, I thought to myself, is what Italians eat for Thanksgiving.  

And grand it was.  Perfect pasta, fresh, rich sauce, endless cheese and the perfect blend of spices.  It was the kind of dish that made you heave big sighs of satisfaction as your eyes closed in a heavenly pause.  Amelia’s manicotti.  It was making me feel quite Italian.

I told Amelia how I felt about her manicotti.  She was so very pleased.  I think it made her like me more that I was so appreciative of this dish.  This one, I imagined her saying to John, is a keeper.

She came to my side more that once with the manicotti pan.  And I nodded each time, wanting more of this Italian excellence.  Not once missing the turkey and stuffing I’d enjoyed in the first 28 years of my life.  This food wasn’t really “Thanksgiving” to me, but I was willing to adapt.

Finally, I was stuffed.  I’d allowed myself to begin to entertain thoughts of dessert.  Would it be pumpkin pie?  Or maybe cannoli?  Maybe I should take a break for an hour or so.  I think I must have eaten a half a pan of manicotti.  More than anyone else.  Maybe because this Italian Thanksgiving was new to me?  In fact, everyone seemed to rave about Amelia’s manicotti, but – come to think of it – I didn’t really see anyone else taking seconds or thirds.  Maybe that’s why Amelia kept coming back to me.  I was the only one really acting on my appreciation.

Then just when I thought I might be ready for an after-dinner coffee and a nibble of Italian cookie, a new parade came through the door from the kitchen.

What the hell.

There was a giant roast.  And a platter of fish.  And a turkey.  And a ham.

Oh my gosh, there were potatoes and vegetables.

And stuffing.

And gravy.

I had stuffed myself to the gills with what was meant to be the teensy weensy pasta course.

I was so completely full that I thought I might roll off the chair and die.

And I suddenly realized how this must have looked to Amelia and the other Italians at the table.  Wow, she can really put it away.  You got a real eater on your hands, John. Good luck with that.

Turns out, Italians take the traditional, massive Thanksgiving feast, and stick a gorgeous pasta course in front of it.  That’s it.

Then it dawned on me: This feast belongs to America.  Everyone adds on.  My people add jello, the Italians add pasta.  Who knew?

I eventually did marry that Italian and his big Italian Irish family.  It’s been 22 years and I have yet to spring my jello recipe on them.

Someday I will.  But for now, I have to keep some surprises up my sleeve.

red-jell-o

 

 

When My Worlds Collide

One thing I love about living on a farm is that it doesn’t matter how you look when you go outside.

In fact, it’s A-OK to head out to do most chores in your PJs. My chickens don’t mind. They don’t even mind my hair, which looks especially crazy first thing in the morning. A frizzy, lopsided mess of gray kinks and curls. I’ll run my fingers through it to keep from completely scaring the animals, and to make sure my dogs recognize me, but that’s all the grooming they require.

This morning I headed out to the chicken coop to check things and gather eggs. I was leaving on a business trip, so this was my last chance for “animal time.” As I left the bedroom and stepped out onto the porch, I noticed some racket coming from the front pasture. The goats were being particularly playful for some reason, running and jumping as a gang, butting heads and clamoring about. The llamas, roosters and mini horse were interested in the goings on, but only as spectators. There seemed to be some sort of game afoot.

I took a detour with my egg basket to see what was up, and immediately realized they were pursuing our littlest goat, aptly named “Boots” after her black Nancy Sinatra go-go boots on all four legs. She’s our only female goat, and although tiny, she is becoming a young lady. In fact, that was the problem. Her “young-lady-ness” had gotten them all a-twitter, and the boys, forgetting their castrated state, were competing for her affections. In fact, they were full-on harassing her.  She could not find peace in our peaceful pasture. I could tell our female llama was sympathetic as she dropped her ears flat back to scold the boys with her worried humming, but to no avail. They leaped onto little Boots’ back and onto each others’ backs and the whole scrum moved about the pasture in a cloud of chaos.

My arrival at the gate broke up the clatter and they all began bleating (and whinnying and humming and clucking) to greet me, abandoning their game, to see if I’d brought treats. Boots was out in front of the group, so I cracked open the gate and allowed her to escape. She was clearly relieved to be rid of the boys, but was then greeted by the dogs – our black lab, Bart, and our Great Pyrenees pup, George. They decided Boots was a plaything, too. and my female heart poured out for her. I called Bart to my heel, and he promptly complied, with the George following suit in a clumsy, giant puppy sort of way. Boots finally had a breather and we all headed out to the coop in happy harmony.

Once there, I glanced at my watch and noted that I had about 30 minutes before I had to go, so I settled in to my happy chicken chores – all 35 birds following me every step of the way as I filled up waterers and feeders, tossing some cracked corn about for their breakfast treat. My favorites waited patiently for their daily snuggle, which I accommodated one by one. Nothing like the soft, pillowy underbelly of a silky smooth chicken across your arm in the morning. I could barely stand to leave them, but I had to. The dogs were now barking and it was time to get dressed.

I turned to leave the hen-house with the egg basket over my arm, and right there in front of me was a shiny black limo.

What the hell.

My ride to the airport.

The driver rolled down the window and said, “Is this where you want me?”

He had the code to our front gate, but apparently thought our little white picket fence put too much distance between him and the house, so he drove on the little dirt roadway that wound all the way around the yard and up the grassy slope to the other side of the house and ends between house and the chicken coop.

Bart had jumped up on the limo door to attempt a face lick and I shouted at him to get down.

And then I remembered what I was wearing. A brightly colored tie-dye shirt and black and white crop pajama pants. Crazy hair. Green flip flips.

Frightening.

No wonder the driver was grinning.  Painfully.

“Uh. Good morning!” I managed.  “You’re a touch early. But I can be ready in a minute. Do you mind driving around to the other side?”

“Sure!” he said with a smile as he turned the sedan around in the long grass, dogs barking and dancing around the car as it bumped back down the slope.

I had to chuckle to myself at the poor driver, trying to make sense of the situation. Most executives he picks up do have a driveway, after all. And a sidewalk. And a clear “front door”.

This executive has a picket fence with staggered stepping stones leading to a kitchen door in the back of a little farm house. And who could blame him for pursuing any road that might lead him to a more traditional entrance? Yet all he found was a wild-looking flower child emerging from her hen-house with her goat. Continue reading

Healing

WARNING:  Graphic content related to chickens. Proceed at your own risk.  🙂

You would think that chickens wandering in the yard, pecking at the dust would be a normal sight in the morning when you live in a little farmhouse like ours in the country.

But it’s not.

At least, not on our farm.

“Kristi! The chickens are in the yard!”

I bolted out of bed.  Not normal at all.

“But Kate put them in for us….right?” I said.

“That was two nights ago.” John pointed out.  “Last night we were sitting out there with them before we left for dinner. Remember?  We forgot to lock them up when we got home. ”

Dang.  I so prefer to blame the kids.

But there they were.  Happy as could be.  Free ranging in the fresh morning air.

I was afraid to go out to the coop for what I might find.   We have predators all around who love a moist, juicy, free ranging chickens.  Foxes and coyotes mostly.   With an occasional mountain lion.  We’ve lost many chickens to them before.

Sure enough, the door to the coop was hanging open, presenting an engraved invitation to some fox.  And there, right in front of the door, was proof of the demise of one of my chickens.  A crop circle of black feathers.

I quickly took an inventory, and all but one were accounted for.  The missing chicken was one from the youngest flock.  Hatched in the summer and not yet laying.  Poor thing.  I thumped my forehead.   How could I forget?

Then over in the corner I caught a glimpse of the grotesque, bloodied back of another chicken.  One whose head I counted but whose back wasn’t visible at the time.  The other chickens were making a fuss, as chickens do when there’s blood.  The wounded hen was cowering on the ground, and as I came closer I could see she’d been torn at and left bare-backed and bleeding.  Probably by the same predator who moved on to grab the missing black hen.

I gathered up the bleeding bird and carried her inside, peeling out her wings to assess the damage.  Chunks of flesh missing. Feathers gone.  My fault.

In the house, I ran warm water across her back.  She was strangely calm.  And she’s not one of the chickens who likes to be held.  She seemed to know she needed help, and that I would help her.  Not being very experienced at chicken veterinary care, I grabbed the people-Neosporin, a non-stick sterile bandage and some band aids from the medicine cabinet, and gingerly covered her back with it.  She didn’t seem to mind.

She’s a beautiful chicken.  An Ameraucana who has feathered legs (not typical).  They’re known as “Easter egg” chickens, so named because hens lay eggs that range from turquoise to deep olive.  Ours has the look of a Golden Eagle, with her mane of feathers and her legs disappearing under more golden and brown feathers.  Beautiful.  But she was weak.  Beaten up.  Sad, even.

Chickens react aggressively to blood.  They peck at it.  If I walk into the coop with a fresh scratch on my ankle, they’ll go for it.  It’s freaky.  Like Hitchcock.  I knew this poor chicken would be attacked if I took her home to the flock.  So I set up housekeeping for her in the little coop I use for new chicks.  Her own space.  We called it “the Hospital”, and it was close to the house where I could check in on her.

I actually considered taking her to a vet.

“Are you serious?” John said.

“Well, she’s a pet, right?  If this happened to Bart, we’d take him in immediately.”

“She’s a barnyard animal, Kristi. Livestock.”

“I suppose.”

“Why don’t we eat her?”

I shuddered.  That’s sick, I thought.  Who would eat their chicken?

Thank goodness I caught myself before I said it.

“OK.  Well, I’m not going to kill her.  She’s too skinny anyway.  I’m going to try to nurse her back to health.”  And I mused that this would be another good reason to lose some weight.  In this case, being skinny saved this chick’s life.

Weeks passed, and there was very little movement in the Hospital.  A nice, grassy, fenced-in yard surrounded the little coop, but that chicken stayed inside.  I brought her fresh water and food each day.  I spiked the water with a probiotic mixture I give to new chicks, thinking it made sense to get some electrolytes and vitamins into her.  She drank enthusiastically.  Chickens know what they need.  They’re pretty remarkable that way.

Finally one day she stumbled out of the coop.  Stumbled….and limped….and flapped her way around the yard.  It was encouraging, yet pitiful.  I began to think she’d suffered an injury to her legs or feet that I’d missed in my focus on her back wounds.  Or maybe she’s just weak.  Well, it’s progress anyway.  She’s exploring the Hospital grounds now.

The stumbling continued for a few days.  She seemed stronger. Her struggle was more vigorous.  It was not making sense.  There’s got to be something else wrong with her.  So one day in response to her flapping around, I picked her up to examine her more closely.  I turned her over on her back, and she allowed me to plow through her feathers to find her legs.

What I saw made me gasp.

Some sinewy material had bound her legs together within an inch or so of one another.  I couldn’t tell what it was.  A claw?  A bone?  It was a mess.  Mixed up with feathers and dirt. And a very definite, tight connection between the claws on one foot and the leg above the other foot.  What in the world?

I ran into the house with her and grabbed my glasses.  We went into the bathroom under good light and I found some tweezers.  She did not object.

Gently, I tugged at the connecting material with the tweezers to see what it was.  I still couldn’t tell.  But I could see that it was wound so tightly around the chicken’s leg that the flesh above and below it had swollen – or grown – up around the material so that it appeared to be part of her leg. Then on the other foot, around several toes and part of her leg, the material wound around and around, doing the same thing.  Making two of her toes almost black.

I concluded that this material could not be part of this chicken, so I took the scissors and snipped the center of the connection.  Then I tried to unwind the material from her legs and toes.  It wasn’t easy.  It was actually embedded into her skin. Like a tree growing into a fence wire.  I would tug at bits of it with the tweezers, then snip it away.  Pinch another bit, tug and snip.  She laid there on her back in my arms, feet in the air, calm and patient.  Letting me work.  Relieved at the attention to her problem.  As I snipped and unwound, it dawned on me: cotton twine.

It’s twine.  Tangled mercilessly around her legs in every possible direction.  Then ultimately drawing her legs together so that she couldn’t stand properly…or stroll the Hospital grounds….

Or flee from a fox.

This twine – the kind you unravel from the stitched closure at the top of bags of chicken feed – had bound this poor chicken.  It must have landed on the floor of the coop when I was refilling the feed canisters and disappeared into the pine shavings.  As she scratched about in her normal course of looking for food, she’d tangled herself in that string, and it buried itself under her beautiful feathers and slowly dragged her down.  I imagined her fussing with it and kicking at it, making its grip on her even tighter.  It caused her to cower in corners. It made her defenseless. And no one noticed.  Not until a fox almost did her in.

Why the fox took off without her, we’ll never know.  Maybe George or Bart, our two dogs, arrived on the scene and scared him away. But there she was.  Alive.  Still bound and cowering, but alive.

And when help finally came – ironically the same “help” who carelessly left that nasty twine in the pine shavings – she allowed it.  She allowed the Neosporin and the sticky bandaging on her back.  She drank the funny water and rested gratefully, legs still undiscovered.  And when she was strong enough, she asked for more help by staggering about and flapping her wings.  And it came.

She couldn’t walk for weeks after I cut away her burden.  It was as though the loss of the strangling twine allowed blood flow to dying limbs and toes and created even more discomfort.  I was afraid she might lose the use of her legs altogether, but we gave it some time to see.

Gradually, she got better.  She stood.  Favoring her right foot, patting it on the ground to avoid giving it the full weight of her fattening body.  Then eventually, walking.  Full weight.

During “free-range” time, we opened the Hospital gates and encouraged her to merge with the flock as they searched for bugs and took their dust baths.

She declined.  She’d become independent.  An outsider.

It appeared to be a mutual decision.

We didn’t press it because we didn’t want her to be bullied.  At the first sign of aggression toward her by another chicken, we decided she would be her own girl.  Free-range for life.

She chose a place that felt safe.  The porch outside our bedroom door.  She found a corner where she could hide her face.  I think she believed she could not be seen as long as her head was stuck in that corner.

Coincidentally, we had stationed our new puppy’s bed on that same porch.  When he was around, she would go to her corner and “hide”.  I think he liked the company and would curl up calmly on his dog bed near her to sleep.

Over time she realized that this white, furry animal – a huge Great Pyrenees puppy, but a puppy nonetheless – was harmless.  She would go about her business, pecking at her food bowl and wandering around in his presence without worry.  I think they calmed each other.

And they became friends.

One morning I peeked out the window and saw her with the puppy, lifting up his ears and pecking at the fur beneath.  Grooming him.

I was stunned.

I watched for some time as she circled the dozing giant, picking off specks of mud and dirt from his white coat, moving in a circle around him.  Every so often he would change position and she would move in to the newly exposed coat and do her work there.

Clearly she is glad to take care of someone.

And best of all, she feels safe.

Healing: complete.

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