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And a Chicken in the Pear Tree

Posted on 23 December 2011

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This Christmas, I asked my husband for chickens. I love chickens, have since I was a child and so, when I first moved out here, I got six black and white Barred Wyandottes that looked like they were designed by Coco Channel to be tucked under your arm and shown off at fashionable social events. I’m fairly sure that I chose my chickens for their looks alone, but I loved those chickens desperately.

They were killed one by one over the course of the two years I had them. One was hit by lightning, a neighboring contractor’s dogs killed two and one disappeared into the swamp. A fifth chicken didn’t survive a hit and run (there are some really terrible people driving on Sagaponack Road) and one was beheaded but it was a long time ago and time has blurred the pain of all those funerals. I want chickens again.

They had the most delicious eggs, with yolks the color of Van Gogh sunflowers that stood so tall in the pan they were amazing. It was like eating sunshine. I miss those eggs, I’m a gal who has, for almost every year of her life asked for the same birthday meal – poached eggs. This year I want them to be homegrown eggs.

So I’m talking chickens up a lot. Or rather, I’m trying to persuade my husband that having chickens again would be a lovely thing and they won’t attract rats. Of course, I’m totally lying, there’ll be rats. It’s just something that none of those wonderful, “are chickens the next cool pet” articles you read in trendy magazines ever tell you, one of the things you forget when you are suffering chicken lust.

Susan Orlean writes about her chickens in the New Yorker and doesn’t mention rats once in all her words of feathered bonding. I know all about chicken bonding, my favorite chicken, Poulette (of course they all had names, they were my pet chickens) used to garden with me and would grab worms that I exposed while weeding. I’d try and stop her, with heavy clay soil you need all the aerating help you can get, but she’d run too fast for me.

She came when I called. I used to give her head-petties – backwards against the feather grain as it were – which she loved, and share my breakfast or lunch with her whenever I was home.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t home that much as gardeners work constantly during the season, rain or shine and the trick to keeping chickens alive is to make sure they get safely into their house each night. The night I lost one to the lightning strike I got home way past dark and even with a flashlight couldn’t find the roosting chickens in the trees amidst the slashing storm. The next morning, she was laying on her back appearing for all the world like she was beheaded, but when I prodded her with my toe, her neck which had been twisted under her body, uncoiled and she let out a slow, chicken “beeraack” and hopped to her feet. She didn’t actually have scorch marks on her feathers and probably was attacked by possums or raccoons and somehow, miraculously escaped, but I like to say she was hit by lightning. It sounds more dramatic. She was, somewhat slow and stupid after the accident, after being oxygen deprived with her head twisted under her, but the other chickens took care of her, until a few weeks later when I again didn’t get back in time to put the girls away for the night and the next morning was short two. Emily who I now say got lost in the swamp, and Harriet who had been hit by lightning. It’s my way of not dealing with the guilt I feel over their deaths.

Poulette’s death was also my fault. I went out straight from work, knowing full well that I should go home first and put her away, I told myself she’d be fine. She wasn’t. I sobbed hysterically for weeks afterwards.

When I tell Dereyk all these stories he looks at me like I’m a lunatic, says things like, “And yet you still want chickens?” and shakes his head. I know he’s right and that the path of pet poultry is filled with potholes like rats, death, dismemberment and cannibalism (did I not tell you about when the chickens stole half a vole from the cat?), but still wouldn’t it be something to look in your stocking and find an egg inscribed “I.O.U 6 chickens in the spring” – I mean wouldn’t that make the winter go so, so, so much faster.

Paige Patterson also wishes that Santa would get on the ball and deliver her a truckload of Sweet Peet already!

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