Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Chickens Keeping Me Up

Recently, we decided to raise a few chickens. We brought six cheeping fuzzy chicks home from the farm supply store. For the first few days they lived in a rubbermaid tub in my office. Then the smell and noise got too bad and they moved into the garage.

I built a chicken "tractor" for them. It's a mobile chicken coop about three by eight feet, easily big enough for our six chickens. When the tractor was finished we set it on the lawn with the chickens in it. It was nice that they could finally scratch around in the grass and peck at bugs.

Our poor dog was/is mesmorized by the chicks. She lays by the coop, ears perked up and tail twitching. Finally unable to take the tantalizing noise and movement any longer she lunges at the enclosure, her nose leaving a concial indent in the soft chicken wire.

We live in a place were we hear coyotes howling, on occassion even in the day. Racoons live in the dead tree by the driveway , red tailed hawks soar overhead during the day and great horned owls hoot to each other at night.

Normally we delight in the wonders of the natural world.

Tonight is different. We have elected to leave the chickens outside in the chicken tractor for the first time tonight. It is supposed to be a safe place for our chicks from predators. My wife and kids have gone to bed and are sleeping soundly.

It is still spring and the nights are chilly so we have rigged up a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm.Dark has fallen and I glance outside to see how the chicks are doing. They are eating, running around and cheaping. Balls of fuzz and feathers illuminated by the heat lamp against the dark of night. It seems that all the world is an audience and they are on a stage, unaware of the perils waiting beyond the small circle of light.

I imagine the night breeze carrying the smell of them across the fields into the woods. I imagine coyotes in the long grass like my dog eyeing the noisy little fuzz balls waiting for me to go to bed. I grab a flashlight and step out the door into the darkness.

As I stand quietly in the dark, flashlight off, the moon comes out from under the clouds and the fields are illuminated. I look out across the landscape and wonder what is hidden in the shadows. I think of predator eyes watching me and my chickens and a chill runs up my back making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I click the flashlight on and shine it towards the darkest part of the woods fully expecting to see glowing eyes. There is nothing but the beam of the light in the darkness.

The chicks see my movement and start to run around more making even more noise, chasing each other, cheaping loudly. I wish they would lie still and sleep.

It is past midnight and I am still sitting here thinking about putting out a sleeping bag in the yard near the coop. Will I spend the rest of my days sleeping out and defending the chickens?

It occurs to me the welcoming night has turned sinster before my very eyes. I fear for the safety of the chickens. What if we were depending on them for food? How would we feel about the night and the wild then?

It is no mystery why settlers, walking with their wagons across the plains, looked ahead to the moutains and saw the devil, attaching his name to surrounding geography - Devils tower, Devils Thumb and many more.

The bigger mystery is that we can live apparantly protected from the dangers in the world viewing nature as a soft and beautiful, caged and tame.

A freind told me a story about a road killed racoon that he noticed near his home. After a couple of days the Turkey Vultures discoverd the coon. When he drove by he could see they were feeding on the body. In a short time the turkey vultures lost interest in the carcass.

My friend decided to walk over to the body and take a look to see why the birds now left it alone. The coon was still there, apparrantly intact, but in reality it was only skin and bones.
The vultures had devoured all of the soft insides through a small hole in the skin leaving a coon skin bag full of bones. He expressed amazement at how within the space of a few days the process could have taken place.

The story is interesting and I am tempted to say unique. No one told me such a story before or since. The process though, can not be unique. Perhaps it is the man on foot, who stops and dares to prod a dead thing along the road, leaves the shelter of car, house and office building, if for just a moment, and looks nature in the face. Perhaps that is the unique occurence.

We are seperate from nature, by definition and with barriers of concrete, metal and glass. The bag of bones along the side of the road scares us. The nature we allow is confined to the covers of coffee table books. We assume we are removed from the contest, but in this assumption, we are fools.

Nature follows us to the office making stomacs rumble at lunch time, making us notice the status of others. Nature rides with us in our cars as the world slides by like a silent movie. We are protected from the wind that would unhinge hair and ruffle clothing, but nature still rides inside with us.

We speak romantically of nature, of "oneness" and prehistoric memories, of green things, wild flowers, and running free in the woods. It is an act. Like a circus. We tell the tiger to jump and it jumps. Nature is beautiful but it is bigger and stronger than us.

It is there waiting to pounce. We should move with inborn fear of the big cat, looking over our shoulders in case something should go wrong.

Like delicate flowers our cities grow from a seed that is no more than a dream held in the human brain. What are the rules? Where is the blue print? Really?

Like insects we move about in the environment we have created. Surrounded by comfortable familiarity, crawling from leaf to leaf. We impose rules and make guarentees, but in reality if we leave even a small opening, there are those that will pick us clean, leaving nothing but skin and bones.

My Grandfather passed away in the nineteen seventies, I was a teenager at the time. Our family piled in the car and headed for the funeral in Aberdeen South Dakota. There is only one thing I clearly remember about that trip.

My brother and I shared a room at the Holiday Inn Hotel. At night in the hotel after we had gone to bed my brother suddenly spoke up in the darkness. His voice was clear untouched by the fog of sleep. He must havew been lieing there in bed with his eyes wide open.

He said "John, what if they do it?" I said, "Do what?" Again he said, " what if they do it, what if they really push a button and start a nuclear war. What if they destroy the world?"

Fear can cement a memory, but my mind clings to that one for some other meaning it holds.

The idea that we are the end point, the ultimate creature is so ingrained, our vision so selective, we miss the obvious. In terms of natural history the end of human kind would be a non event. The world destroyed would be our own. It would matter to humans who might be left behind, not to nature. Nature was here long before us and will remain long after we are gone.

Perhaps our arrogance is not a flaw, but a feature that allows us to excel. The human race moves ahead with single mindedness, toward some undisclosed goal. Nature is at the controls.

Without growth, and change our world would fall apart. Any individual who suggests they like things the way they are is totally ignored. Each of us pursues our own specialized needs unable to appreciate the path we are on or the thing we have become.

We are living in history. If our kind survives the thing that is happening it will be recorded as more important than the printing press or the nuclear bomb. The wonders of our time that we hold out as progress are only facets of a bigger thing that nature is building.

Nature is building something new with the materials at hand. A giant is waking. Science fictiom movies of a world ruled by machines flash across blue screens like a dream or a preminition.

We fear it as we fear death. But we are fascinated and we move toward it. The next phase in a long evolutionary line, it rises. Humans, machines and corporations go together like organs in a body to make the giant, like mitocondria in a cell we produce the energy, provide order and make it grow.

Something in me wants to scream "Live Free or Die", but it is too late. We have been absorbed. We must work each day for the machine, no longer able survive on our own. We were born for this, it is impossible to turn away.

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