Yesterday, our new flock of baby chicks arrived. I could hear them peeping – along with their other boxed campadres – in the post office when I went to pick them up.
But when the clerk brought out the tiny box that snugs them all up, she looked a little grim. “I don’t know about one of them,” she said. And sure enough, not just one but two of the babies had died in transit.
The first year we got chicks, I fretted, well, like a mother hen. I checked on them every 15 minutes. Philip and I worried about pasty butt with vigor. We gave them fresh water on every visit. And when, a few months later, our dog Meander got into the run and killed several birds, including our favorite Snowman, I stood in the middle of that chicken yard and sobbed with cries so intense I’m sure they were heard up the mountain.
This time, I thanked them for being here the time they were and set their box up and out of reach of our cat Jelly Roll until I could bury them. When Philip got home, I took the box, dug a small hole behind my office, and dropped the little bodies in. I want to say I placed them in, but I didn’t. I dropped them right from the box to the earth. That alone speaks of the change in me.
Five years ago, with those first babies, I was still deep in grief over Mom’s death. I was still feeling her absence like a wide, sharp hole around everything. Philip’s entrance into my life began to heal that wound, to help it scar over, but then, it was still big . . . and these chicks, they represented a dream she and I had shared – of land and space and respite for me and for others.
But more, I had not yet learned to understand with any depth that suffering is often far worse than death. As my friend Shawn says in his lovely book The Day the Angels Fell, “there are things worse than death.” It took me years to know that about Mom – that her suffering any longer with the cancer that ravaged her bones would have been far worse than losing her entirely.
So now, more than eight years after Mom died and five years into raising chickens, I take gifts where they come. We didn’t have to watch these babies suffer, and likely, their deaths were quicker than they would have been had they been here since we would have tried to save them but might have actually prolonged their suffering in the process. I’m grateful for the 13 peepers in the brooder inside my office and for Milo’s tiny finger petting a bird head yesterday.
Farming hasn’t made me callous – at least I don’t think so. But it has made me honest, honest and hopeful, hopeful that beyond all this we all get to wander free and healthy in all ways, aware of our belovedness and content in our being.
Don’t forget to stop by on Saturday, April 27th for our BIG OLE YARD SALE. Lots of housewares. A couple of pieces of furniture. A working air conditioner. And more. Doors open at 8am, and we’ll be here until the crowd thins.
See you then!