Monday, July 27, 2009

Chicken Talk

There has been a chicken lull in my life recently. Oh, we still HAVE a number of chickens,* but I have not been out recently to pet them and feed them scraps, observe and photograph them, or plan a life of plunder and international debauchery with them on the high seas (or, again, fields).

Instead I have been lying indoors, recovering from knee surgery, awash in a sea (or, again, a field) of narcotic pain relievers. And though I have not been able to visit the chickens, I have had ample opportunity to put in order some thoughts regarding chickens and the English language. Granted, sometimes these thoughts haven't made a lot of sense (c.f. pain relievers, narcotic; above).

English has a lot of Chicken Talk. "Nest egg," "broody," "chickens will come home to roost," "cocky," "something to crow about"... But since not many people keep chickens any more, these phrases no longer evoke the images they used to. Now that I "chill with my peeps" though, many of these old phrases now seem fresh, fascinating and funny in a way they had not been before.

For example: after a hen lays an egg, she can be incredibly noisy about her accomplishment. "i did-a-EGG! did-a-EGG! did-a-EGG!" she clamors. And when one hen starts up, the others catch the urge too: "she did-a-EGG! did-a-EGG! did-a-EGG!" They chorus and walk around and carry on together for a bit. It is so loud that it is frankly alarming, up close.

Now, the other night Amy and I were recalling something ridiculous we had experienced together, leaning on each other and laughing in front of the kitchen sink. We were not unpleasantly deprived of air, but our breathing was definitely subordinate to the laughter. Our breathing patterns--similar, but out of sync--went, "'laugh'-'laugh'-'suck in air,' 'laugh'-'laugh'-'suck in air'," repeat. (...repeat...repeat.) The drawing-in of air was louder and harsher than the breathing/laughing sounds on their way out.

It occurred to me pleasantly in the middle of this laughter that we sounded a lot like the pleased, egg-accomplishing hens. "Laugh-laugh-BREATHE, laugh-laugh-BREATHE" sounded like "did-a-EGG, did-a-EGG." And right on the heels of this realization came the twin realizations that (a) the egg noise that the hens make must be called "cackling," and (b) Amy and I were "cackling like a pair of hens."

Whoa! I never knew what 'cackling' sounded like! Even when I heard the actual sound, from the hens themselves! The word "cackle" sounds like "crackle," so I assumed that it must describe a crackly sort of laughter. I imagined it was a slightly pejorative term, relevant mainly to witches and crones. But is it instead a neutral to positive word, describing pleasant gasps of amusement, shared in company? The dictionary would tell us, probably. But in my current state the dictionary is much too far away to help us.

And that is just episode ONE of Chicken Talk, which was quite a bit longer than I thought it would be (narcotic pain relievers = trouble editing down prose? or tightly plotting a story?). So, we will end here. Vaya con pollos, chicken friends.

* n = a million

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Yarrr, matey!

There is a lot of cultural interest in pirates these days, what with news about the real-life Somali pirates, and also the dashing Pirates of the Caribbean (fake pirates who enjoy commensurately more public sympathy).

And the swashbuckling young Orpingtons want in on some of that pirate-themed action! Now, not to toot my own pirate horn, but the Orpingtons are very lucky to have me here. I currently have a bum leg--hopefully it will not come to a peg leg--AND I can do a very respectable pirate voice. I even have a pirate name generated for me by a website many years ago. With a chicken riding around on my shoulder, all I need is a machete and a boat...soon chicken and I will be the terror of the high seas!

Or, since I do not particularly like to go on boats, maybe we will ride on a horse, and be the terror of the high...fields.

In the meantime, watch for my new line of children's books about horseback chicken pirates. 10% of the profits will go to buying overripe plums, which--the young chickens discovered today--are extremely amazing and delicious. A good way for a young pirate chicken to fend off scurvy.
It's a pirate's life for us!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

No, THIS is how we snuggle.

Last year, I spent a lot of time patiently explaining to the crop of little chicks, "Nooo, chicken, we're snuggling." By and large, those chicks remained unconvinced.

This time around, I have been spending more hang-out time with the chicks, bringing them treats, watching them run around, and just generally chilling. The Orpingtons are the friendliest of the bunch, and they like to climb into my lap, where they are content to be held and stroked and snuggled a little. When they really want to settle in, though, they clamber along my arm to my elbow, and wriggle their heads insistently between my arm and my body. They'll fall asleep like this, or go for a ride as I walk around.
Often a second Orpington will also have a snuggly feeling, and it will want to snuggle in the crook of the SAME arm. Not the OTHER arm, no no no! No, the second Orpo will get right in there with the first one, wedging its way in, smooshing the other chicken, often stepping on it. Both chickens seem happy with the setup, even though it looks uncomfortable. If I try to separate them so they each have an elbow to themselves, my help is not appreciated.

They say, "Noooo, lady, we're snuggling!" and go back to how they were.

Well. I stand corrected.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

You put your weeds in there, man!

Step one: Fill a garbage can lid with weeds from the garden. It should take less than a minute to fill the lid if your garden rows are niiiiice and weedy.

Step two: Deliver the lid to the Post Office Chickens in their "playpen." (Remember 4 weeks ago when they were itty bitty?) Spread the weeds around. Many chickens (the Reds, Welsummers, and Ameraucanas) will run away from you and your crazy lid, all the way to the opposite side of their yard. The friendliest chickens will stay around to see if this setup might be edible. What kind of chickens will do that? Mostly Orpingtons.

Step three: Allow the excited nasal piping of the weed-eating chickens to alert their peers that something is AWESOME. Observe as the aforementioned peers creep warily or flap excitedly over.
Step four: Inter-chicken weed tastings. Harmony and happiness.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

One MEELION feets

One of the duties of a Mother Hen is to occasionally call all her babies over for a warming snuggle. The babies come toddling and scurrying over in response to the call, and Mama flaps her wings and shuffles her feet and scoops them with her head until they are all tucked underneath her. Quickly, the scene changes from hen-and-chicks to...just hen.

During all the hustle and bustle, it is sometimes possible to see what is going on beneath the hen. Once the babies get under there, the vast Mothership is right above them, still moving around a little to gather everyone in, and the little guys have no idea which way is forward. So all the babies just stand around under there, stock still, facing any which way. Their bodies are obscured by the hen's feathers, and only their legs are visible. So on the whole, the Mama appears to be standing on one normal-sized pair of legs and about 16 tiny, string-sized, additional legs, pointing in all different directions.

And then she sits on them. Ploomp!Given the astonishing quickness with which this all happens (not to mention the awkward angle, and the fact that the hen never wants to do this right up close to me), I have yet to photograph the elusive Many-Footed Hen. The closest I have come is this picture. The hen's wings are already down, giving the chicks coveted access to her wing-pits for snuggling but blocking their forest of feets from view. Only the chickie in the veeery front has visible legs...but there are seven MORE sets just like that under there, and it is hilarious. Picture