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Main | A Dress of Leaves »

Farm Life

We lost five chickens this year. Back in May, when the light of early evening was stretching long and golden across the farm I entered the coop to discover a lifeless feathered carcass on the ground. The initial surprise of finding Pawtucket, our lone Rhode Island Red laid out on the earth so consumed my attention that I didn’t even notice the second bird until my husband joined me on the scene and pointed it out. A soft pool of grey and white feathers circled what had been a large, fluffy chicken with comically feathered feet, which reminded us enough of fringed boots from the 80s rock era to earn her the name 'Boots'. Boots lay motionless and headless on the dusty earth. I swallowed hard. We exchanged glances and quietly set to work securing gloves in order to examine the lifeless remains like detectives at the scene of a crime, cleaning up evidence before our kids were there to witness. We were about to leave and did not have time to bury the bodies, so we gathered the two hens securing them for a send off later than night.

These were the third and fourth chickens we had lost since becoming new chicken farmers two and a half years ago. Later in the summer our lone, rouge over-the-fence flyer 'Bella' went missing, tallying the loss to five, the entire run of our first fledgling flock. Only the second year hens are still alive. Amidst all the loss this year, I surprised myself by noticing I had begrudlingly found acceptance... like one might do the dishes, water the garden and then dig a chicken grave. Just a normal day checking chores off the list. It is not that we have encountered this so very many times but it turned out to be enough that the process becomes more palatable and certianly proves undeniable. Death is part of life. We can’t celebrate the irresistible cuteness of baby chicks without acknowledging they will grow and eventually perish.

Another early Spring morning, when the world was still cool and damp we discovered a lone chicken casualty, this time oddly seeming to happen without attack or struggle. I found myself in work boots and yoga pants digging a grave for a departed feathered friend in the emerging day light, chopping through invasive groundcover perennials and shoveling mounds of clay-heavy earth well before my first cup of coffee and before packing the kids off to school. This is farm life I remember thinking to myself. This is the dirty work, literally, the less glamourous part of farm life that doesn’t show up on the Instagram feeds or Pinterest boards with DIY projects made of distressed barn wood. Digging graves and laying bodies to rest, doing it early in the morning and late in the evening so children don’t yet witness and selecting words carefully when explaining to them where Cascade, Midnight, Pawtucket, Bella and Boots have gone is part of the job that at times feels thankless, behind the scenes. Chores like endless hand weeding, weed whacking, shoveling dirt, compost, mulch, rock, chain sawing, dragging trees, burning, tilling, etc. never seem to be fully accomplished and always leave one wishing for more hours in the day. But there is beauty in this too, if you look for it.

There is a beauty in sharing the truth about the cycle of life with children. There is beauty in hard work, physical efforts and the fruits of labor reaped. And perhaps the greatest beauty is the intimacy with which we may be lucky enough to know, really know a piece of land, a special spot on the earth that we can plant roots and call home. Coming to knowing the cycles of the seasons, when the irises bloom, the berries ripen and the dandelions will inevitably dry and turn to seed. Being able to mark the passing of time from the angles of the sun and the shift of the landscape is a gift that farm life keeps giving us each day that we choose to receive it. It is this gift of inspiration that I strive to capture and convey, that it may help keep the passion for farming ignited in this modern world.

After reading bedtime stories, I walk downstairs and step into my boots ready to help set the ladies to rest. In the fading light of dusk I see my husband’s strong, handsome figure emerging from the deep shadows of the darkest woods of the farm. He comes toward me wearing a black hoodie, a somber look and carrying a dirty shovel in hand. He has already finished the task. My love and appreciation swell. I ask if he is alright, he nods. In this instance we don't need to speak. I know he too accepts the challenges and joys of this farm life.

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