I read an article last December that admonished us all to “rebrand” ourselves for 2015. And, for one fleeting nanosecond, I envisioned myself embarking upon some new, lofty passion and ordering a snappy new wardrobe from Net-a-Porter with which to accessorize myself while I changed the world.
But yeah, no. Here it is, March, and I am still wearing yoga pants and t-shirts and still puttering around the chicken yard talking to my hens.
It’s not just inertia or laziness that keeps me from doing (and wearing) something important. It’s a reported 10,000 years of history that keeps me, like humans through the millenniums, coming back to that chicken yard for a tete-a-tete with Pippa, Luna, Lola and Ginger. Like sitting before a fire and sleeping with dogs, communing with chickens is a primal experience that is practically hard-wired into our psyches. (What? You don’t sleep with dogs? Doesn’t everybody sleep with dogs?)
Gallus gallus, the Red Junglefowl that is thought to be the grandaddy of the modern chicken, probably originated in Southeast Asia and, as the first animal domesticated by humans, soon found its way to Africa and beyond. There is some sort of atavistic pleasure for me in the thought that as I call my hens and scatter a handful of grain for them, I am repeating a quotidian gesture that reaches far, far back in human history. You won’t find any ancient depictions of people texting on their iPhones, but, as I have mentioned before, museums are full of representations of the interdependence between humans and their hens. There is something comforting to me about this, so you can only imagine how thrilled I was to receive a recent gift from a friend.
Anne was my college roommate. She was the pretty one. And the practical one. And the organized one. We met freshman year, pledged the same sorority and shared living quarters through the rest of our college years. And, amazingly, after all that, she still speaks to me! Mostly, these days, through Christmas cards, but as she was packing up recently for her family’s upcoming move from Ohio to North Carolina, she was struck by a moment of organizational brilliance.
Anne has a collection of African artifacts bestowed upon her by an aunt who lived for many years in Angola, and in the spirit of one woman’s deacquisitions being another woman’s treasure, Anne decided to pass along to me a carved wooden figuring of an African woman holding a hen that looks precisely like our dearly departed girls, Summer and Hope. The hen is perched perkily on the woman’s hand, gazing longingly toward a bucket presumably filled with grain. The carving reminds me and delights me in the awareness that other peoples, continents and cultures away, have gathered eggs and listened to the clucking of their hens through the ages, just as I do today.
A few days after I received my new treasure from Anne, I also heard from my childhood friend, Nancy. (She was also the pretty one. There’s a pattern here…) She was checking in to see whether I’d read a book by Andrew Lawler with the intriguing (and all-encompassing title) Why Did the Chicken Cross the World: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization.
Nope. Haven’t read it. Good, she said. Something about an upcoming birthday…
I am so touched by these expressions of friendship. These dear women who have known me for so many decades, continue to remember me, to indulge my whims, and, above all, to reinforce my love for chickens. Thanks to you both, and much love from me and the flock. xoxo