Monday, June 8, 2020

3377. The Chickens I Had (Loving Without Limits)

By Jamie K. Reaser, RidgeLines: A View of Nature and Human Nature, 2019
Photo: Jamie K. Reasar
In the 1800s, the cochin, an Asian breed of chicken, was made famous when gifted to Queen Victoria of England. I’m not sure how she felt about the gift, though they are quite affable as birds of great fluff and “personality”. I received my cochins, three black ones of the miniature variety, when my neighbors moved south to Louisiana. They were very nice chickens, hand raised and dutifully spoiled by a bright little girl. I adored them and the temperamental, one-eyed bantam rooster who came with as guard. They were my first chickens in reality. As I child, I had really imagined chickens. We bought a farm that we never got to move to, but I had extensively researched chicken breeds to figure out which were among the best egg layers and how many there should be in a highly productive flock and the number of eggs I could expect each month and what an egg would sell for and how much money I’d be able to save to pay for the upkeep of the horse—his name was Strawberry—that I so badly wanted.
Cochins are not well-regarded for their egg production capacities, but their parenting skills are revered. Cochin hens are very broody, they’ll sit and sit on just about anything resembling an egg—rocks, pine cones, some toy left in the yard, maybe belonging to a kid, maybe the family dog. My cochins managed to incubate a single fertilized egg. One. I was ecstatic when I heard the faithful hen clucking with excitement, “The chick is coming! The chick is coming!” I ran to the hen house, lifted her gently, and took a peek. The insider’s egg tooth had cut a small hole in the evenly white shell. It was cheeping, announcing that it wanted out, to be of the world. She was in maternal bliss, and so proud of herself. We waited together, and waited. The chick was slow at this. It exhausted itself in its efforts to be. It rested and started again. Again. And, again. Cochin Momma kept saying encouraging things. I kept saying encouraging things. We were patient, but not without agitation. It was dusk when we could say that he or she had hatched, had arrived. For the first—and thus far only—time in my life, I was a chicken grandmother!
In the morning, I rushed out to the gardens to feed the chickens and pick tomatoes. I was going to name the chick. Matilda! Matilda was there in the coop. She greeted me with her one eye, expecting me to pick her up and drape all six feet of her around my neck, like I’d done so many times before, like the bright little girl had done in the summers. 
That moment felt like a way to explain all of my heartaches. 

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