For those of you who are curious, this is the explanation of why I currently have a rescue chicken. This is taken from the journal I kept this past year…
8/17/2007 The Gift
“I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the message of my heart upward. I pray to them because I believe in their existence, the way their songs begin and end each day—the invocations and benedictions of earth. I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen.”
–Terry Tempest Williams
Anyone who’s interested in animal totems will probably tell you that birds are aligned with the heart chakra and goddesses closely aligned with love and/or rebirth. Aphrodite has her geese and doves. Isis has a connection with falcons, and her very own winged form. Sarasvati has her swans. Nike, goddess of victory, is gifted with her own wings.
Well, for whatever reason, the Universe, in its infinite, divine wisdom, has seen fit to gift me with–of all things–a chicken.
Needless to say, this was not a gift I readily accepted.
My first indication of said Gift from the Universe was when Larry, one of my tobacco-stained, toothless moving guys, came up to me frowning and said: “Ma’am, I thought you said you didn’t have any pets in the back yard. That it was safe to open the back gate so we can drop stuff on the porch…
“Uh. I don’t have any pets out back. I own a cat and, considering he’s wedged himself in the bedsprings of my mattress and is busy hissing and taking chunks out of the feet of anyone foolish enough to enter the bedroom, I think it’s safe to say he’s not out back.”
Larry scowled at me from under his John Deer cap. “Ma’am, you’ve got a chicken out back. You tellin’ me that’s not yers?”"I’ve got a what?” I peered through the French doors in my dining room and, sure enough, there sat a chicken on my back porch.
It was rather smaller and, frankly, kind of more moth-eaten and mangy than my mental image of a chicken. But it DID have the general outline of the Fisher Price Barn Yard Edition toy I grew up with. And, strangely enough, it seemed rather pissed off. It had plunked itself down on my porch and didn’t seem to have any intention of moving, in spite of Larry’s two buddies dropping heavy piles camping gear all around it. For all appearances, it seemed to be staging some sort of chicken sit-in protest.
“Well, Larry. Looks like you’re right. There’s a chicken in the back yard,” I conceded. Considering all the other craziness and chaos that had already happened that week with David, an unexpected chicken didn’t seem like the end of the world. Just one more crazy turn in the nightmare that had become my life.
Larry still seemed uneasy. He shuffled his feet and clutched his clipboard tighter. “Well. Just so long as you don’t try to file a claim if she gets out or squashed or somethin’…”
“Larry,” I snarled, “if you squash the chicken, you just solved my problem of what I’m going to eat for dinner.”
Larry just shook his head and walked away, as if the only moral-failing a client could exhibit worse than having an un-planned chicken in the backyard was to have an un-planned chicken who’s welfare you didn’t give a damn about.
I’m not normally so callous when it comes to wayward animals. In fact, many times in the past, I have suspected the local strays have whatever secret hobo sign then use to mark “kind-hearted woman” somewhere out in my yard I get so many rescue-cases turning up telling me their sad tale.
But, as the end of my relationship with David ended up being both very emotionally unstable and physically violent, I was pretty chewed up. I hadn’t been doing a very good job of taking care of ME the past few years, let alone any other living, breathing creature. Me and a single, crotchety, 17-year-old, limb-mauling cat were all I could reasonably hope to manage.
I did go so far as to introduce myself to the neighbors a couple doors down on both sides and inquire politely if they were missing a chicken. None of them were and, based the haste of their goodbyes, I had the sneaking suspicion they thought I had mental issues similar to the Vietnam vet who lives down the street who “walks” his bunny daily by pulling it down the street in a wagon while wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts.
Through the process of elimination, I determined that my chicken was most likely an escapee from the Mexican grocer that is down the end of the ally behind my house. The grocer maintains a wire pen of live chickens to take home for dinner.
How the chicken managed to escape, I’ll never know. Security measures looked pretty stringent when I peered over the fence at the end of the ally. I simply didn’t have the heart to rat-out the escapee after her successful bid for freedom.
But I also REALLY didn’t need a pet chicken. So, I hardened my heart and did my absolute best to pretend the chicken out back didn’t exist. I didn’t feed her. I didn’t put out water. I didn’t give her a name. (A first in recorded history for me when a stray has stumbled across my path.)
I hoped that if I didn’t acknowledge her presence, my refugee chicken would take the hint and move on to friendlier climes. I mean, there was a guy just a couple doors down who was a complete sucker for rabbits…
No such luck. The chicken sit-down/starvation strike continued for several days and I learned something I never wanted to in this lifetime… if you leave a chicken out in 110 degree sun without food and water, they start to wilt just like a neglected house-plant. I kid you not. Except they look at you reproachfully with golden eyes.
The little chicken was pathetic to start with and she got even more so. On the very rare occasions when she did bother to move, her moth-eaten wings dragged on the ground and she shuffled around like that creepy spider creature that went after Captain Kirk in one of the Star Trek episodes. And she made this pathetic little warbling noises rather than anything reassembling a cluck.
After about three days of the poultry guilt-trip, I went out back to water the lavender plant I’d brought with me. The bottom of the pot leaked a small drizzle of water—and the spider-chicken creature hurriedly shuffled it’s carcass over to lick up the drops of water that has escaped, making excited little mournful noises the whole time. She looked up at me with her little beady, avian eyes and cooed appreciatively. She was just so damn happy to have ANYTHING good happen to her.
The whole thing just struck a little too close to home and I cracked.
Cursing up a blue-streak, I went into the house, found a bowl I could sacrifice to the dangers of the Avian Flue, filled it with cold water, and gave it to her. And then I dumped a pile of thistle seed meant for my bird feeders to hold her long enough to figure out what the hell chickens eat.
The chicken had found Nirvana. I swear she didn’t shut up for the next two hours while she guzzled every drop of the water and did cartwheels in the thistle seed.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’d kinda half-hoped the thistle seed would be a bad idea and she’d keel over from eating it. Kind of like a horse with croup. No such luck.
I had fed and watered a stray and, by their covenant, I was now the proud owner of my very own chicken. And, as the owner of any new animal will tell you, that mean’s there’s stuff to be bought…
8/19/07 Chicken Logistic
Having never received The Gift of a Chicken from the Divine Universe before, buying supplies for the upkeep and maintenance of said chicken really left me feeling like a stranger in a strange land…
Fortunately, I already go to a local feed store to buy high-end canned food for my ancient, foot-mauling cat. I was low on food for D’Artagnan so I used this justify also shopping for the chicken.
A cute, freckle-nosed 20-year-old was behind the counter when I came in. She had the kind of disgustingly wholesome good looks and lithesome grace in a pair of faded jeans that could only come from a lifetime of growing up one of the local ranches. No doubt, she had some sort of darling, two-part name like Gloria Jean or Daisy Mae.
I’d kind of been hoping the retiree from New York City would be in. She was always kind to clueless greenhorns like myself. I cursed under my breath, knowing I was going to lose major feed-store cool points with Ms. Daisy Mae…
She looked at me assessingly from under her cowboy hat.
Into the breach, we go… “Uh. I seem to have acquired a chicken. Can you tell me what I should be feeding it?”
“Is it a hen or a rooster?”
That earned me the first eye-roll of the morning. “Is yer chicken a boy-chicken or a girl-chicken?”
I swallowed nervously. “How would I know that?”
This earned me Eye Roll 2. “Does it have a comb on its head? Does it make a lot of noise in the morning?” she asked using that tone reserved for small children and the mentally-inept.
“Well. It kind of warbles sadly to itself on occasion,” I offered helpfully.
That one confused her so much I didn’t even get an eye-roll. I was losing her. I decided I better try to make it easy on her…
“I don’t think it has anything on its head. It’s probably a hen. What do I need to feed her?”
“That depends. How old is she?”
“How old is she?” Again, I was at a complete loss. “Uh. I didn’t exactly ask her for her ID.”
Eye Roll 3. “How long have you had her, Ma’am?”
The dreaded “Ma’am”… There are two phrases in the southern lexicon that set my alarm bells screaming. The first is the sudden application of the title “Ma’am” where it hadn’t been appearing before. The second is anything ending in “bless their heart”. I particular hate the use of “Ma’am” as it makes me feel downright ancient.
In spite of feeling defensive between being a clueless greenhorn and dealing with the college girl sneer-factor, I decided I better tell the story of the escapee chicken from the Mexican grocer. That was a good call. It seemed to win me some small degree of sympathy from Daisy Mae.
“Ok. So you don’t know how old she is. How big is she?”
I winced. I’m not the most visually clued-in person you’ll meet on a normal day. And I sure as heck hadn’t realized I was going to have to give enough detail on the chicken in my back yard to be able to create a “America’s Most Wanted” poster.
Squinting, I tried to see the growing bane of my existence in my mind’s eye. “She’s, uh, about the size of… a sort of moldy bowling ball bag, I guess.”
You could see Daisy Mae debating internally on whether or not to try to press me for more information. Clearly deciding it was a waste of her time, she answered with: “Whatcha want is the lay crumble. It’s over there against the wall. Look fer the 20 pound bags.”
“Lay crumble?” I asked, not sure I’d heard her right.
I went over to the wall that was stacked from floor to ceiling with bags sloppily written on with Sharpie marker that had half rubbed off. Almost all of it looked like bags of sawdust, not anything that would keep alive a Gift from the Divine Universe. Plus the damn stuff was heavy.
I spent the next half hour rummaging through and shifting bags, trying to make sense of the various options of chicken, turkey, dove, and pigeon food that came in feed, pellet and crumble. Finally, triumphantly, I returned to the counter bearing my hard-earned prize—a big bag labeled “lay crumble”.
The clerk snorted. “That’s turkey feed.”
I just about wept.
Daisy Mae took pity on me and went and found me a bag of the right stuff. “You’re also probably going to want a nesting box. Chickens don’t do well in this kind of heat.”
“Tell me about it.” I muttered.
She arched an eyebrow at me. “You aren’t abusing that chicken, now, are you?” (Side note: it never fails to amaze me how many people care about the welfare of the damn chicken. But do any of them want to take care of her themselves? Noooo.)
I assured her I was the saint of all things chicken.
We then proceeded to discuss the merits of various types of nesting boxes. After all was said and done, she plunked something on the counter that looked suspiciously like a project made by a 5th-grader to hold Mom’s Kleenex box. It was $25.
Next, Daisy Mae lectured me on why I really needed to buy a second chicken to keep my rescue chicken company. Apparently chickens are herd animals and they can get a little neurotic living on their own. Go figure.
This was starting to feel suspiciously like the Star Trek episode Trouble with Tribbles. In my minds-eye, I could see my back yard becoming rapidly awash in mournful chickens. Thinking back to the week-long sit-in strike and the cartwheels through the thistle seed, I already had some doubts about my chicken’s sanity. And, as the bill for the chicken I didn’t want was already up around $50, I deferred that decision for another time.
I returned home with my purchases. Both the chicken and the local finch population greatly prefer lay crumble to thistle seed. The chicken wolfed down several large bowls of the stuff before squinting up at me beadily with what I interpreted as: “Now THAT’S more like it.”
She has, however, completely disdained the use of the $25 Kleenex box holder in favor of hanging out under one of the Palo Verde trees. I can’t say I really blame her.
Since getting with the program laid out for me by the Divine Universe, I am happy to report that the chicken has tripled in size and is looking considerably less moth-eaten.
Ms. Thang has grown to expect her lay crumble by a certain time of the morning. If I fail to meet her rigorous schedule, she positions herself in front of the French Doors in my dining room and fixes me with her beady, golden-eye stare, reminding me that this is no way to treat a Divine Gift from the Universe.
So that pretty much is the story on meeting the physical needs of the chicken. On to the metaphysical lessons…
8/20/07 Chicken Metaphysic
Apparently, I’m failing to fully appreciate the coolness factor of my Divine Gift of the Chicken. Whenever I grudgingly tell the story of her appearance, people get excited. They want me to re-tell the story to their friends. Every time they see me, they inquire about the health and latest news on the chicken-front. They ask for pictures. Lots of pictures. And they suggest offerings and ways to better appreciate the full glory that is my chicken. (But do any of them want them want to adopt the chicken? Noooo….
I’ve been traveling a lot this summer. This raised the question of who was going to feed and water the chicken while I was away. I ended up employing the same high-end pet service I use to care for my cranky cat, D’Artagnan. This is the kind of place that not only comes and feeds your animal and gives them their medicine. They spend an hour in “quality time”, playing with them and writing little daily report cards on what they’ve been up to for the day.
If the pet service was fazed to be asked to look after a chicken, they didn’t show it. The only thing that threw them for a loop is that the chicken still doesn’t have a name. (They ended up dubbing her “Mr. Chicken”, don’t ask me why.) So I came home from my writer’s conference and Pennsic to multiple pages of anecdotes on what Mr. Chicken has been up to in my back yard. Apparently she terrorizes the pet sitter at least as well as she does me. The pet-sitter is clearly not Ms. Thang’s spiritual assignment on this limited plane of existence and it’s wasting her precious time to have to be dealing with her. I had to tip the pet-sitter lavishly for her to agree to come back.
My Rolfer, Carol. has gotten into the act. She feels very strongly that I need to consult a well-known animal empath, Linda Jons, who lives in town to build a stronger rapport with my chicken. But, even more than that, Carol feels I need to adopt another chicken to keep mine company. Apparently, among her many talents, Linda keeps chickens and currently has a swarm of babies scurrying around her place. Carol wants me to adopt one. I hear about this every time I go to have Carol fix my ribs so I can keep fencing
Now, maybe I’m being paranoid about the whole thing. But the last thing I think I need in my life right now is an empathic baby chicken bonding with the neurotic one already out back. I don’t want to know what the two of them could hatch up—no pun intended–in the dark of the night to get me with the Chicken Metaphysical Program
Things on the chicken-front reached a whole ‘nother realm of craziness this past Thursday, though, when I told my fairy godmother, Judy, about her. The thing you need to understand about Judy is that she has a certain level of religious fervor that tends to complicate my interactions with her. To Judy EVERYTHING in life happens for a purpose. EVERYTHING has profound meaning. The chicken is no exception.
Listening to my story while seated at Starbucks, Judy vibrated in excitement so badly that I swore she was going to levitate. “But don’t you see, Stephanie! This chicken was SENT to you. This chicken is here for a PURPOSE.”
“Yeah. Yeah. I get it.” I swirled my chai distractedly. I’d heard this one often enough and made my peace with it
“No! Don’t you see? She’s YOU!!
OK. This one was new. “Huh?
“Don’t you get it? This poor young thing was running away from a horrible situation that was going to kill her. She’s beaten up. She’s looking for a place of refuge. She’s upset that life has treated her unfairly. And, of anyone she could have gone to, she came to YOU.
“Well, I am about 30 feet from the back of the grocer,” I offered helpfully
Judy is not so easily dissuaded by logic. “What color is this chicken?
“What color are her feathers?”
I squinted, trying to remember. “Kind of a coppery red, I guess.
“YOU SEE!” Judy slammed her coffee cup down on the table. “She’s a redhead. She’s YOU! God sent you this chicken to teach you about yourself!!
It was hard to argue with Judy-logic. “Well, whatever she is, she appears to be here to stay,” I conceded grumpily.
I would have thought Judy would be happy in her victory but she looked troubled. “This chicken… she’s healthy right? She doesn’t look like she’s going to die or anything., does she?
Lord, don’t let me have to take this thing to the vet to appease Judy, was all I could think. “She seems quite healthy,” I assured her
Judy peered at me over her rhinestone-laded glasses. “You sure?”
“Scout’s honor.” I crossed myself
Judy continued to look troubled. “Ok, well, if she dies, you call me, okay? She’s you. But I don’t want you taking it personally or anything if she doesn’t make it.
Now my pride was wounded. “The chicken has the best food money can buy and her own little chicken penthouse. I think she’ll be okay.
Judy patted my hand and insisted that I bring her pictures of her “grand-chicken” when I see her next week. But she continued to look troubled.
I couldn’t help wondering, if she things the chicken is a representation of me, what she thinks my chances of making it might be as convinced as she seems to be that the chicken is doomed
Anyway, I, personally, draw short of Judy’s conclusion that the chicken is some sort of avian personification of myself. I do, however, generally believe that the things that appear in your life are there to serve a purpose or teach you particular lessons. I have been having a difficult time, however, discerning the specific purpose of the chicken.
Quite frankly, other than being an entertaining anecdote for my friends, she’s really kind of an unfriendly, ungrateful pain-in-the-ass. (This may also be why she still lacks a name.) I always thought Jim Henson was kind of whimsical in his portrayal of animals. I can tell you now, though, that he nailed my chicken pretty well. She’s a pissed-off, vocal, indignant ball of fluff
She makes a mess of the yard. It’s a constant battle to keep algae out of her water bottle. She nags me went I don’t feed her on the schedule she deems appropriate. She terrorizes the neighborhood tomcat. She beats the hell out of the sparrows who try to poach her food. She tears up the yard looking for something more tasty than lay crumble delivered on an erratic schedule
She frequently follows me about the yard issuing a long litany of complaints in Chicken-ese. The day we were both caught out in a summer monsoon, I would bet my life on the fact she was actually cursing me out soundly for not letting her into the house. (And, let me tell you–a soggy, pissed-off chicken with water running off the end of her beak is not a pretty sight.
For her part, I suspect my Guardian Chicken is unhappy with her assignment of subjects. I am clearly not getting with whatever the karmic program is supposed to be. And she has already put enough time-in-grade being a Divine Gift from the Universe to deserve better than her current miserable gig
I am trying to get with the program. Reading up on chickens as animal guides, I have learned that chickens are supposedly descended from the Gallus, the Wild Red Jungle Fowl of India. They symbolize curiosity, knowledge, independence, the innate ability to sense danger, and the ability to maintain an individual identity while amongst a group. Those all seem like good things to have in my life, but, to be honest, I’m not sure I’m learning much on those fronts from my spiritual guide right now. Mainly I’m just busy trying to keep her from killing my ancient cat.
What I have got from her is this…. As the full impact of the last couple of years has hit me, there have been several days when it’s all I can do to get my butt off the couch. I would, quite honestly, like to pull a quilt over my head and stay there for quite a while until everything blows over and I don’t care so much about what has happened. Maybe a nice decade or so
But, generally, the guilt-trip from the hungry, pissed-off creature peering through the doors at me is enough to get me moving in the mornings. And, once I’ve finished feeding Ms. Thang, it doesn’t seem unmanageable to think about making something for myself as well. And then maybe looking at paperwork or something else moderately productive
That’s it for the profound. No doubt I’ll get the Advance-Placement Chicken Lesson when I’m up to it. She doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. No matter how much I might wish it
And, in the meantime, I seem to be amusing my friends in family with the ongoing saga of the chicken.