The poetry of poultry.

We have a crew of house guests this weekend and last night we all tromped into the coop for hen introductions. It’s really fun to see people enjoy their first face-to-face with a live chicken. Invariably they are struck by the lustrous softness of the feathers, by the hens’ alert sociability and by the voracious interest in a handout of scratch. Those beaks mean business!

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To many people, chicken is nothing but potential stir-fry.  But some of us have had the good fortune of counting a flock of hens among our personal acquaintances, enjoying their affection and their ridiculousness. I am not alone in my admiration of Gallus Gallus. The folks at my new favorite web site tweetspeak have thoughtfully conflated National Poetry Month with their self-declared National Poultry Month, referencing extant chicken poetry and encouraging new works on the subject.

As we stood in the coop last night admiring my pretty hens, I thought anew about that niggling conundrum, the commoditization of the chicken. This lovely bird has the misfortune of being perhaps the most abundant, docile and portable source of protein for the planet and therein lies tragedy for the humble chicken. Here is poet Jane Mead’s powerful take on the subject:

Passing a Truck Full of Chickens at Night on Highway Eighty 
BY JANE MEAD
What struck me first was their panic.
Some were pulled by the wind from moving
to the ends of the stacked cages,
some had their heads blown through the bars—
and could not get them in again.
Some hung there like that—dead—
their own feathers blowing, clotting
in their faces. Then
I saw the one that made me slow some—
I lingered there beside her for five miles.
She had pushed her head through the space
between bars—to get a better view.
She had the look of a dog in the back
of a pickup, that eager look of a dog
who knows she’s being taken along.
She craned her neck.
She looked around, watched me, then
strained to see over the car—strained
to see what happened beyond.
That is the chicken I want to be.

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Slightly less dire is this classic:

Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens
Jack Prelutsky, 1940

Last night I dreamed of chickens,
there were chickens everywhere,
they were standing on my stomach,
they were nesting in my hair,
they were pecking at my pillow,
they were hopping on my head,
they were ruffling up their feathers
as they raced about my bed.

They were on the chairs and tables,
they were on the chandeliers,
they were roosting in the corners,
they were clucking in my ears,
there were chickens, chickens, chickens
for as far as I could see…
when I woke today, I noticed
there were eggs on top of me.

And my favorite chicken poem of all:

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Happy weekend – read a poem! Hug a chicken!

Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Disturbance in the Flock.

What I’m thinking today is that chickens are a lot like humans. Yes, I know they are actually the last extant remnant of the dinosaur, but mine are acting a lot more like humans. Fickle, moody, argumentative, rapacious.

It was just a few weeks ago that I bragged about my flock, the little utopia that it was. Each hen a perfectly functioning cog in the machine, truly a peaceable kingdom. Dare I say it – poultry in motion.

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But that was then and this is now. We’ve got problems.

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Pippa is the little old lady of the flock, a perky bantam who defined her turf from the get-go with our three newish hens. She had to. They are all three times her size! It was amusing to see how she had them all cowed. If they came too close to a morsel of scratch she coveted, she would charge at them and they’d squawk and run for cover. Well and good. It’s called pecking order and it is the basic infrastructure of flock machinery, an invisible fabric that knits together the personalities and foibles of a group of hens.

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But Ava the Australorp and Nugget the Rhode Island Red must have looked in a mirror and noticed that they are huge and Pippa is just a pipsqueak. They have turned the tables. It is not amusing in the least to watch them chase and peck her. She is terrified.

Those in the know, the self-styled chicken experts of the Internet, say that pecking order is endlessly dynamic and that disturbances work themselves out with time. It is just another episode of the soap opera that makes it so fascinating to watch the “chicken channel” of one’s flock, they say.

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But in the meantime, Pippa has taken to seclusion, and to the rafters of the coop and to the far reaches of the chicken yard, from whence she refuses to budge when it is time to go back inside. Have you ever tried to chase a chicken? Endlessly humbling. They are faster than you are and will outwit you every time. Little Pippa has us literally on the run!

It could be that Pippa is aging. At five and a half, she is edging up to the outer reaches of the average chicken lifespan. Or it could just be that it is spring and the other girls are feeling their oats. Or it could just be chickens deciding to act like humans.

Whatever it is, we are hoping for a détente to arrive sooner than later.  Turns out it is a full-time job playing referee to hen-pecking squabbles and the entertainment value is wearing thin.

If you get an invitation to drop by for chicken soup sometime soon, you’ll know why…

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Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Annoyances of Life, Chicken Facts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Your pages are numbered.

I keep a list of “Books to Read in 2017”, which has already swelled to a wishful thinking level of eighty volumes. Oh, and don’t forget the thirty additional reads that will be assigned throughout the year by my various book clubs.

I love to read because I am eternally seduced by the illusions it provides. The illusion that I  are doing something worthwhile. (This is a lie; I am merely lazy and therefore, reading suits me.)  The illusion that with every book I tick off I am gaining knowledge and making some sense of the world. (Ha! A lie; no sense can apparently be made of this world.) The illusion that reading makes me more interesting. (This is the biggest lie of all – have you ever seen people’s eyes glaze over when you start telling them about the last book you read?)

But read I will because it cannot be helped. And because a recent article by Emily Temple at  Literary Hub has introduced a heart-palpitating sense of urgency to the task. According to her calculations, I have, at best, around 1,200 books left to read before I go to that great library in the sky. The implications are grave and the message is clear; ditch the beach reads and crack the pages of Proust and Joyce, because it is later than I think.

But enough about me. How is the reading clock ticking for you? According to Ms. Temple, the average American reads 12 books a year. If you read less than that, I guess you have an actual life, or perhaps you are just a philistine, and in either case our paths probably don’t cross so you are not reading this post anyway. If you read 50 books a year, she categorizes you as a “voracious” reader; show-offs like my husband (side-eye here to the CE) qualify as “super” readers, those who devour 80 or more books annually. Here are Ms. Temple’s nifty actuarial projections for each category – and if you are over 50, prepare to be humbled:

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I can’t decide whether this is just the kick in the pants I needed to up my reading goals or if I should just surrender and download Fifty Shades Darker. One hopeful thought here: Ms. Temple’s projections may be a bit conservative – my 95-year-old mother-in-law reads hours every day and since I’m pretty sure she will live to be 110, all these calculations apply only to the rest of us amateurs.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

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Dear NYC, I promise not to hold a grudge.

Never fully recovered from our last deep-freeze February visit a few years back, so I scheduled NYC for March this year. After all, winter is over, right?

There were hopeful signs. Trees still bare, but there were buds on the forsythia and a few carefully-tended blooms along Fifth Avenue. People were out and about, strolling in the Park and hailing carriage rides along Central Park South. All in all, a lovely time to be in the city.

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And then it snowed. Okay, a spring snow. Fine. Pull the puffer out of the closet. After all, it will melt overnight; gives us bragging rights when we head back to California. And it’s pretty!

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We warmed up with coffee and calories. Sip an espresso over at our favorite Turkish place,  Beyoglu. An evening with Daniel at Peter Luger. Lunch at Nougatine, where the current iteration of their roast chicken is served with a frothy mustard sauce. Nothing to complain about here.

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BUT THEN IT SNOWED AGAIN! Giant wet clumps of wind-driven snow, snow and more snow. Not the foot they were predicting, but at least that much blocking every crosswalk; icy snow-walled moats of slush. One wrong step and you are going down. No one looks amused.

Beware the ides of March.

Et tú, New York?

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New York, how could you? Four days on and we are still skidding through crudely-hacked sidewalk paths. Today they are promising more snow. Or rain. Or, as some creative type at weather.com described it the other day, a “Wintry Mix”. Like it’s something we would choose off a menu. A succotash of snow. Thank you, no.

But I just can’t quit you, NYC. The snow may not melt anytime soon, but my heart does when I see a gorgeous sunrise over Fifth Avenue (not that one would see it through today’s blanketed skies)  and that gorgeous bouquet at the entrance to Balthazar. Full of promise. Spring is out there somewhere…

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Posted in New York city, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Get Thee to the Armory.

There’s still time – the New York Antiquarian Book Fair is on through the weekend at the Park Avenue Armory.

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Thanks to the generosity of Sunday and Josh at B&B Rare Books, Ltd. we reveled among the 200+ exhibitors and international literati at Thursday evening’s opening reception. Books. Champagne. Conviviality. Oh, and if Sunday is in attendance, couture:

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So many treasures to behold. As we grazed through the miles of aisles of booths, we noted exhibitors from Maine to California to Japan, Russia, Italy, France and The Netherlands. I swooned over a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, took giddy delight in some exquisite 18th century gold-stamped paper from Germany, admired letters written in the hand of everyone from Napoleon to James Thurber, marveled at huge tomes overflowing with illustrations of flora and fauna and puzzled over various artifacts including an antique toy kitchen, complete with a chicken in every pot.

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There is truly something for everyone. First editions of Ulysses for the flush; $20 reproductions of Japanese art for the rest of us.

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And tomorrow, Sunday, is Discovery Day, where, for the price of admission to the Fair, you can bring your own “treasure” to be professionally evaluated. After you discover the true value of that volume that was gathering dust in your attic, may I suggest a celebratory lunch or dinner at nearby Vaucluse. The white asparagus is to die for:

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Oh, but don’t forget to pack a warm coat. It’s just a bit chilly in NYC this week…

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Posted in Big Fun, Music/Art/Literature/Culture, New York city, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Pink Winter Might Be Over.

It’s happening. There was still the palest hint of light in the sky at quarter past six yesterday evening. Of course, we face about as far to the west as you can here, given that the Pacific ocean actually lies to the south for us. Chalk it up to the weirdness of California.

With the days edging ever so slightly longer, there are other harbingers of spring. The hens are getting worked up. Roosting patterns disrupted, the coop in disarray from guerrilla nesting attempts, egg production suddenly on the upswing; the girls are trying to impress!

But my favorite heralds of spring are the tulip magnolias. Also known as Saucer Magnolias, Chinese Magnolia or, more correctly, Magnolia × soulangeana. All the other plants are still trying to wake up from their long winter’s nap, but, thankfully, the magnolias always set their alarm clock early. Nothing else in bloom, so they really get to show off:

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Visitors ask to take a flower home; passersby call out to exclaim – “they are so beautiful!” Yes they are!

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I think of them mostly as an east coast tree, but they are graded for hardiness zones 4-9 and they have been very happy now for several years standing guard at our north-facing front entry. Eleven months of the year you don’t even notice them, but in late February and early March they are the belle of the ball.

Fun fact: while the ancestors of our trees hark from China, the Magnolia genus is named for 17th century French botanist Pierre Magnol:

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The only downside to these trees is that, in less forgiving climates, their spring debut can be thwarted by hard freezes or early spring frosts. They can also grow to as tall as 25 feet, so pruning shears must be kept at the ready.

The magnolias are just the beginning: next there will be the sweet smell of pittosporum and fennel and then the volunteer nasturtiums by the roadside will pop into a frenzy of orange blooms. By the time May rolls around, the hens will be eating loquats from the tree by the coop and the jacarandas  will unfurl their purple blossoms. To everything there is a season, and today I pink spring might be the best of them all!

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Birds of a feather.

Just when I was thinking that I might not have the best husband in the world.

(Background: he is balking at recovering some twenty-year-old furniture. Some chairs that are tattered to ribbons. Shredded from age and shedding their nether parts every time they are touched.  Sofa pillows so stained from some unidentifiable substance – animal? vegetable? mineral? that we should probably call in a hazmat team. Yet he is immovable: “They’ll just get faded again anyway”/ “the cats will scratch them just like they did the last ones”/”no one ever sits there anyway”)

So, I stomped my feet and stalked off to calm down (the alternative was to seize any blunt object in the room and do bloody battle and then we’d have some real stains on the furniture). I was in my office, sulking, thinking he might not be perfect after all (a shock, truly, after thirty-six years) and then he comes roaring in, calling my name. I am hopeful! A change of heart? New chairs on the horizon?

No. He was distraught, and not about furniture. It had been one of our less favorite signs of spring. A huge thump against the window, a bird slamming into the glass with such force that you could feel the vibration. Sometimes it is a hawk, occasionally a songbird; this time it was one of the acorn woodpeckers that carouse in our palm trees. Spring invariably renders the neighborhood birds temporarily insane and a few of them pay heavy consequences. Each year the rites of spring sadly include a few losses – a nest perched too precariously or too accessible to predators; a sparrow too curious about the inside of the chicken coop and can’t find its way out, and on this day, a woodpecker that crashes into our window at mach speed.

We rushed out to the bushes below the window and there he lay, completely still. “Is he dead?” I asked. “No, you can see his eye is blinking”.  So beautiful close up, the crimson head, the obsidian beak.IMG_3858.jpg

And then I watched my husband, who five minutes before had NOT been my favorite person in the world, gently cradle the fallen bird and fashion a little nest of safety for him to lay in in the bushes, in the faint hope that he might just be stunned. He stood over the bird, fretting earnestly over its prospects. And I was dangerously close to forgiving him for the furniture debacle.

An hour later, we went back outside to check on the little guy. We approached the bushes with a sense of dread. We could see that he had not moved. My implacable, unrelenting, stubborn, furniture-allergic husband bent gently over the bird and in that moment, two things happened: first, my grudge against him dissolved. Who could stay angry at a man who cares so tenderly for a fallen creature? And secondly, just as he reached again for the woodpecker, it started suddenly, jerked its head and in an instant, flapped its wings and flew to the top of a nearby palm tree.

We shared a moment of giddy joy. We felt ridiculously triumphant over a tiny event in nature at which we were no more than bystanders. But a bird flew, and our spirits soared. Crisis averted. Marriage saved.

If this was fiction, my husband would then have looked at me and said “Let’s go buy some new furniture.” Regrettably, that’s not what happened. But we did go out to lunch. Two old people, like two shabby old chairs – faded and worn and tattered but somehow, apparently,  just not replaceable.

Happy spring!

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Posted in Absurdity, All Things Poultry | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments