When I was but a wee lad I used to get picked on all the time. It wasn’t as though I was a small, sickly kid. I was actually quite fleshy for my age and if I had it in me to hurt someone, I probably would have been able to hold my own in a fight, but I just could never bring myself to actually make a fist and hit someone who was threatening me in the face. I’m not sure why, but the thought of punching someone in the eye conjured up slow motion images of a huge, bulbous orb squishing into its socket and then rebounding and popping like an overfilled, blue and white beach ball of jello. It just kind of grossed me out. Consequently, I got beat up all the time.
Maybe saying “all the time” is a bit of an exaggeration since I really didn’t get beat up all that much, but I did get picked on and threatened to be beat up all the time. I didn’t mind it very much because I was really good at avoiding most confrontations and developed all kinds of defense mechanisms to keep from getting hit or picked on, most of which have stayed with me to this day. I think it’s the one reason I get along so well with people. Watching me navigate my way through a crowded room of people is a thing of beauty because I’m afraid if I don’t make everyone happy, I will have to pop someone’s eye out of their socket using my awesome purple belt skills (I was one test away from being a brown belt when for religious reasons I had to quit – actually, the gym got really stinky and I couldn’t take all the sweaty teenagers dripping on me when we sparred).
Because I was such an easy target for both teachers and classmates, I was pretty much universally abused verbally by everyone and called all kinds of names which still bring up feelings of dread when they come to mind (man, I hated school). If the anti-bullying laws were in effect when I was a kid I would have been the only kid in school.
Thinking back on the names I was called I can almost universally come up the etymology of each one and realize how and why it applied. However, I knew the term chicken was a derogatory term, but only because it was applied to me on those occasions where I thought it best to flee than fight, but no one I knew ever had chickens and so how the name came to mean what it meant was a mystery to me. That is, until I got chickens.
The term is absolutely apropos because anything will scare a chicken – noise, feathers, shadows, food scraps, other chickens, small dogs, water, air, leaves, dirt, sun, snow, etc. If a chicken sees something it’s not sure of, you can bet that the chicken thinks that thing is trying to kill it and will run from it. And when one chicken gets scared, they all get scared. You name it and a chicken will run from it. It’s an amazing defense mechanism and one I employed quite often as a kid.
Imagine for a minute that a group of chickens (or grade school nerds) need to get from one enclosed edge of the lawn to the other enclosed edge 30 feet away. I say need, but it’s more like an unfulfilled and unreasonable desire. One chicken, the “scout,” will sneak out a few steps and turn its head quickly back and forth and when it feels relatively safe it will start a mad sprint to the other side. Seeing that one chicken running will set off three thoughts in the mind (yes, it is one collective mind) of the other chickens. 1. I wonder if she sees something to eat. 2. If she’s running then she must be running away from something which means that we are definitely not safe on this side of the lawn. 3. I need to start running. This happens in a split second as the pea-sized synchronized brains of the chickens work as one unit and then they’re off chasing after the first chicken like a bunch of old women in a three legged race with their skirts tucked up and their bloomers flapping in the breeze.
Aside from being incredibly stupid, chickens are actually one of the most amazing creatures in the universe. When you see them in their natural habitat, scratching in the morning mist, with the sun coming through the trees, it’s as if they know something you don’t and for a split second you can almost imagine Jane Goodall trying to work her way into their confidence by grooming and communicating with them through sign language.
NB: Okay, that was an inadvertent shout-out to the Far Side. I didn’t do it on purpose, but after I reread it I realized what I had done. I guess Gary Larson has wormed his way into my head so deeply that I sometimes don’t realize that I’m writing him out loud.
If you ever get a chance to look closely at a chicken (other than in the meat department), they look almost prehistoric with their unblinking eyes (they actually have a sheath that cleans the crud off their retina when it gets dry or dirty, which I guess could be called a blink); fleshy crowns of red goo that expand and contract with the weather and often get frostbite, turn black and fall off in the winter; scaly, reptilian legs and huge claws. When they raise their lips and expose the rows of sharp fangs it brings a chill to my heart. I’ve seen them peck the crap out of each other just for getting too close to a sunny spot on the lawn. Vicious and angry creatures they are and, oh, so unpredictable.
Never try catching a chicken if you have a faint heart. Unless you corner a chicken, it is very difficult to even get close to it and, when you do corner one, you had better be ready for the fight of your life because they will come after you with fangs bared and claws unsheathed in an effort to rip your heart from your chest. Okay, maybe not, but they will flap a lot and scare the crap out of you if you don’t get a hold of them right.
Chickens are the original homing bird and probably could have been used in WWI if the letter wasn’t urgent and the recipient could wait for the sun to go down to receive it. Chickens will always make their way to the coop unless the door is closed or they can’t remember how to get back into the fence they escaped from; then they will lay down outside and wait patiently for something to eat them. They are the opposite of Dracula, in the sense that when the sun goes down they fall into a stupor (a lot like my uncle Lyman) and nothing will wake them, not even the sharp teeth of a raccoon or skunk as it eats them from the neck down.
I have a great love of all things chicken (especially chicken strips), so it was a sad day when I realized that it might be time to get rid of my chickens. I had two choices: separate them from their heads or send them to the “farm” (if you know what I mean). Actually, I did send them to the farm where a friend of mine said they would live out their lives in peace and harmony. I know it sounds like a euphemism for eating them , but this friend has a good heart and I trust her.
So, if I love chickens so much why did I feel the need to get rid of them? Well, my teenage girls, while fascinated with them for about three years, kind of lost interest when they learned to drive. It’s not quite cool cappuccino conversation when the boys ask you what you like to do and you say, “feed worms to chickens.” The boys tend to smile and move slowly away while keeping their eyes on you to be sure that you don’t make any sudden movements (unless they’re FFA boys who say “neat!” but they wear those funny coats and my girls kind of smile and back away from them; it’s a vicious cycle). They stopped digging worms for the chickens soon after they noticed boys and that left the feeding and watering squarely in my lap.
When I started doing all the work, I realized after awhile that I was running a Soviet style chicken operation where I was feeding and watering and housing and getting nothing in return since their egg production all but diminished. It was like my little flock of “Olgas” were done with their earthly task and weren’t willing to work any longer. It was also almost winter and there is nothing worse than trying to keep a flock of chickens alive through the winter when the coop isn’t heated. They were big-bodied girls and good at keeping themselves warm most of the time, but having to keep the water free of ice and the heat lamp on got to be too much for this old man. It was time to send them to the farm.
So, how does one transport chickens from one farm to the other without first cutting off their heads and plucking their “fur” you ask? I’m not sure how others do it, but I used individually personalized chicken boxes (aka beer boxes). I surely wasn’t going to put them in the back seat of the Wagon Queen Family Truxter and buckle them in. Looking into the back of my truck , I realized that if one of the local frat kids had broken into the back he would have thought he had struck the mother-load. That is, until he opened one of the boxes only to have a chicken explode out of it and peck his eyes out (which I might pay to see).
It was very difficult getting the chickens into the boxes because of their girth and their large talons and they flapped like heck going into the box, but once in (they were duct taped in), they became like sheep to the slaughter, quiet and docile. They even talked to us in their clucky soft chicken voices as we transported them to the truck, like they were confessing their sins before heading to the electric chair.
In the end, the chickens got a nice ride on an SUV 4×4, awesome popcorn for dinner (no movie though) and a new home. Now all I have to do is clean the coop and turn it into a sewing room for my wife.
Seven girls down and two to go.