Sunday, August 19, 2012

Separating from the Flock

Zen, The Black Silkie                      copyright Shobe Biz Communications

Last Sunday was a steamy summer Sunday, so hot and humid it erased the coming of autumn from my mind.

I filled a plastic storage tub on the patio with cool water for the dog. Then, I walked up to coop for a "chicken check." Chickens have a difficult time in heat and die quickly without water. I needed to see if I should put out a shallow pan of water out for chickens to walk in or needed to make a quick run to the grocery store for some watermelon for them to peck at.
At the door to the coop, the chickens had gathered, some scratching their beaks back-and-forth against the avian-wired door. I opened the door and they jail-broke, each one of them skedaddling their tail feathers down the long path away from the coop. 

Except for one--my black Silkie, Zen. For some reason, Zen, in her densely-feathered body with overly-feathered feet, did not race for the door. She held back from the others. Silkies are a more timid breed, and this timidity often separates her from the flock. Sir Lancelot, the black-crested white polish rooster, protects her like a older brother—when he sees her standing alone, he prances over to her side and lets her walk in his shadow.

I waited until Sir Lancelot came back for Zen and then went inside the coop. 

The water fount was brimming with water but I still decided to freshen it up a bit. There was no obvious signs of heat exhaustion in the chickens; in fact, they seemed rather spunky. All was well. I walked back down the hill to begin my busy day.

My oldest brother and his fiancée were coming to town from my home state in the Midwest and joining us for dinner. I was excited because I hadn’t seen my brother for two years and I was looking forward to the time to get to know his fiancee even better.

I had a list longer than ticker tape of things to do. I had to clean up the puppy’s diggings that had blackened the patio. I had to scrub the house from a week’s use. And, I had to prepare something for dinner. I guessed doggy treats simply wouldn’t do.

I mentally calculated my tasks and the time I had left. There was only five hours—not much time to pull it together. I chastised myself for procrastinating and swore that I would move fast, despite the broiling heat.

I had just finished my tasks and slipped into my summer's dress when my brother and his impending wife knocked at the front door. Everyone made their greetings doused in a lot of good humor and laughter. For the first time in awhile, my house overflowed with the warm feeling of family.

I love being around my brother, always have. As a child, he brought me to his baseball games and would let me tag-along with his friends. I learned a lot about the way boys and young men move in the world by hanging out with him. At his high school graduation party, I was the only non-high schoolgirl allowed into the “den” where his friends gathered. He never even uttered a word when I developed a schoolgirl crush on some of his friends.

My oldest brother is my rooster. He has saved me more than a few times—from hurt feelings, from attacks from other kids, and, once, when I was five, when I fell under the ice of a backyard pond. It was my brother's fierce grip that pulled me from the depths of the freezing waters.

We were all sitting down to dinner when a large ruckus of hen noise began on the hill. My daughter asked me, “Mom, do the chickens always make that much noise?”

I shook my head “no,” and waited, silently, listening for other signs.

The squawking continued, getting more desperate and louder than before. It was a kind of noise I've never heard.

Knowing that chickens have different sounds for different predators, I ran from the patio and up the hill, taking the steps two at a time. As I moved down the long path toward the coop, I saw that almost all of the hens had taken roost inside. But not the little black Silkie, Zen. She was stranded outside with my cat, Sequoia, barricading the door. Sequoia’s tail was swishing back-and-forth, his lips smacking. 

I ran into the coop, reprimanding Sequoia and gathering him in my arms. I figured grabbing him was the safer bet, because if I tried to grab Zen and missed, her ensuing flight would make her a target. With Sequoia tucked in my arms, Zen waddled by me, flew on the roost, and joined the flock. The hens quieted down. I secured the coop.

We all settled back into dinner. Family stories danced on the table under the evening stars merry light.

It became the hour when it was time to go. We hugged and said our goodbyes.

I stood at the front door and waved as my brother and his fiancee pulled out of the driveway and drove down the street.  And, then I walked inside, shut the front door, and leaned up against it, tears welling in my eyes.

My mind flooded with memories of childhood. Good memories, sad memories, difficult memories and funny memories, too. My mind was a well of deep moments into which I could always dip my bucket.

One memory really held me, prompted my the sight of my brother driving off. I was standing by my parents in the driveway of my Midwestern childhood home, next to my car with its big sign penned by my sister in my car's side window that read, "California or Bust."  I was bubbling with excitement about my move to the West Coast, nervous, too. I gave my Mom and Dad each a warm hug, said "goodbye", and then opened my car, sat down in the driver's seat, put my key in the ignition, and started the engine. As I backed down the driveway just a few feet away, I stopped for a moment to look at my Dad's face. There was an indescribable sadness etched into his usually merry blue eyes. It's a look I'll never forget.

I was separating from my flock, and for my parents and me, it would never be the same.

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful piece that shares the sometimes overwhelming emotions that happen when we least expect them. Your family, past, present, and future, are clearly the foundation of the woman you are, a chicken woman! Love you, srh