Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bird paintings and nature: Chickens

From our dogs I learned to be a firm and consistent leader. Our cats trained me how to properly execute orders, - as I will share in a future post.

The past two days I have been trying to figure out what our two Langshen chickens have taught me and why I became so attached to these two little feathered girls…
When we bought them they were just starting to lay beautiful eggs and we called them Over Easy and Sunny Side Up or short, “Easy and Sunny”.

Sunny and Easy
Pastel on paper August 2011

Chicken personality:

Easy, the biggest of the two is the most affectionate, jumping on my lap begging for a snack or to be petted. Gardening became so much more fun in her company. While I was pulling weeds she would sit there right with me, chatting with me, once and a while interrupting herself by catching a bug. She would follow me around, - which was cute but also worrisome since she would fly over fences or on top of things to get to me.

Sunny, would rather find her own nice fat cricket or big dragon fly…. Although she was more aloof she would always be looking out for us…calling and warning us if she noticed danger from the sky or ground. Her strong willed spirit and intelligent nature would surface when she disagreed with something,  like being put up early. I would have to chase her and look for this mischievous girl, digging herself in our gardens or hiding behind plants. Her ways to outsmart me were always very comical and endearing.

Chicken experience

The bond between the girls and me was different than the one I had with my horse, dogs or cats. I am not sure if our connection was based on pure friendship or if I was a mother hen in their eyes. Maybe my motherly instincts took over with so much received unconditional love and vulnerability? These chickens were the most fragile pets I ever had under my care. Keeping them cool in this Missourian summer was almost a full time job. But also keeping them safe was a huge responsibility. In return I received their unbreakable loyalty, trust and daily delicious fresh eggs.

I will never forget that one stormy day. It was just afternoon but outside looked dark like midnight. I was calling the girls and ran out of the house in the pouring rain to find them. There they were, soaking wet, waiting for me under a big tree, - that didn’t give any shelter. The branches were swaying violently in the wind and there were only seconds between the next lightning and thunder. It was a dangerous situation to be outside. When they saw me they ran and followed me to the coop. 
That was such a magical moment, when I entered the coop waiting for them to come in. I felt a warm feeling inside. A feeling, I had felt in the past when I was waiting happily at the door for my parents or other loved ones to come in my house, - after a long period of not seeing each other.
The difference was that this was their house. Every morning they go in on their own to lay their eggs or eat their food, yet, they didn’t seem to know that they also had to go in to take shelter. The happy expression in their little beady eyes, watching them calmly, elegantly stepping up and into the coop, ruffling their feathers like taking off their wet rain coat was priceless and is an experience I will never forget.

Chicken language

Over the years I learned to read the body language of dogs, to understand the demands of cats, but never learned how to communicate with chickens. I followed my conversation English teacher’s advice to become like a parrot, imitating all the sounds and words I heard. This is indeed the best way to learn a new language. 

After a while I could easily distinguish “Good morning” from “Goodnight”, “I just laid an egg” from “Hey, come and see this”. I knew exactly when they were announcing harmless strangers, for example, a box turtle, or dangerous predators, such as hawks and raccoons.

Chicken perspective

Sunny and Easy were living their own lives and had other important business to attend to, so they wouldn’t constantly follow me around like our Border collie but unlike our cats they would never ignore me,  after all their needs were met. They always had time to check in on me and have a chat.

These chickens never leaved our yard and always stayed close to the house or where ever we were.  I never needed to clip their wings….But one day our Border Collie Dharma loudly barked and when my husband went out to check, Sunny was at the other side of the fence, chasing a huge bug. 
During the day, our Rottweiler Hera stays in that separate part of our yard under our mature trees, keeping an eye on the girls warning us against thieves. However, if we were not on time she would have certainly killed Sunny. 
Only a week ago, I caught Hera, swallowing a whole squirrel like a huge boa constrictor. A large hawk has also been eying the girls from the sky and I have seen it taking a rabbit out of our yard (I made a sketch from memory and will write about this in my next post). The two girls had become too trusting and “human”. They didn’t have to compete for food and be part of a community with a strict pecking order. Because of the freedom and too much human handling they no longer felt vulnerable or afraid of anything.

No matter how much I love these chickens and their eggs, their safety and happiness will always be more important to me. With pain in my heart I decided that it would be best that these girls would go to a place where they can roam safely and be part of a larger hen community with roosters as their protectors.

You know that you are in love when the hardest thing to do is saying good-bye

These first days without them are very difficult. All my daily phone alarms are still going off reminding me to take them out, giving them ice cubes and water, turning the fan on or off in the coop, getting the eggs, bringing them in etc. The backyard feels empty and quiet. I miss them running to me, greeting me the moment the backdoor opens or when they hear my voice. The pesky bugs are already returning…The loose dirt in our raised beds, their favorite dust baths, are empty and untouched. The grass will no longer be naturally fertilized. While I was cleaning up the pond yesterday, Easy was not there to rescue me from a huge spider that appeared when I moved a rock. This morning I didn't catch crickets at the front door to please my girls. Normally, I would spend a lot of time outside in the yard but these two days I only go out to let the dogs out. It will be the third day without their daily precious gifts, their delicious fresh eggs. For the past year I have been enjoying a daily omelet.  It is still too painful to use my last eggs...

The dogs and cat feel that I am sad and they try to ease my pain in their own unique loving ways. 

Although I know that they will have a safer life and that they have each other to lean on in their new life, I never thought letting them go would be so hard on me.
The day we parted I made the pastel sketch of my loyal true friends…I feel honored to have known such magical, special loving inspiring creatures who were so hard to say goodbye to and I hope that they get everything that their soft loving tiny big hearts desire.

These past days,  I realized that chickens could be just as missed, if not more, as any other pet…