Archive for March 2011


Regarding Chickens

March 21st, 2011 — 2:47pm



March 21, 2011

So now I want a chicken.

I’ve been working on revisions to a young adult novel Penguin will be publishing in 2012, a story in which the protagonist—she’s named Prairie—raises a flock of chickens.

I’m afraid I’m very suggestible.  The longer I work on this book, the more I want a chicken.  Actually I want six chickens.  Just like Prairie, I can see it all in my head.

We drove the long way around from work to home last night, instead of snowmobiling across the still-closed road.  On M-28 between Seney and McMillan I saw two plump hens, one white and one brown, bustling at the doorstep of a small gray house.  My head whipped around and I kept them in sight as long as I could.  I felt very happy, like a kid with an idea.

I’m always curious about happiness:  what it is, how it works, where it goes, where it came from.

Chickens might take me back to my childhood—it was happy, on a farm.  But we didn’t have chickens for long and in truth I was leery of them.

It might be their silly plumpness, the way they bustle.  That’s a lot of it for Prairie.

It might be that I think it’d be hard to get too far from your fundamental human roots when involved in the care and feeding of a chicken.  (And right up front I’m going to admit I’d be no good at the whole un-romanticized picture:  the axe and the chopping block, the boiling and plucking.)

It might be curiosity about the chicken’s nature and ways.  Like Prairie I think they’d be interesting.

It might even be an essay E.B. White wrote, “The Hen, An Appreciation.”    He does advise against trying to convey your enthusiasm for poultry to anyone else, and I’m already not taking his advice.  But then, he didn’t take his own.

I’m not sure where the delight springs from.  I just know chickens please me, at least a few wandering unfettered around a yard.

I’m not someone who should have six chickens.  I have a diner.  I’m usually at work.  I live twenty miles from that work on a road that’s closed six months of the year, in a cabin in the woods where I can see a fox or a coyote almost every day, and I know that they would—understandably—find my chickens intriguing and then tasty and convenient.

So, no chickens.  Probably.  Yesterday somebody offered me a rooster out of the blue.  All practical considerations aside, it was very tempting.

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Thoughts on Ice

March 15th, 2011 — 4:10pm

March 15, 2011

Today’s Special:  No special.  Snowmobile wouldn’t start.  Unexpected day off.

I was all bundled up in my snowsuit and very much awake and the sky was just beginning to lighten. It seemed as if—since we weren’t going to work—I ought to do something particular with this chunk of predawn.   Sallie looked at me expectantly, her tail wagging.  She always does this, it wasn’t any special message, but I told her, Yes, we will take a take a walk.  Her stumpy tail moved even faster and she leapt up into the air on her springy spaniel legs, the perfect definition of delight.

We set off westward on our snowmobile track across the ice of Muskallonge Lake.  Soon I was caught up in the rhythm of it, absorbed by the scuff of my boots in the snow and the faint jingle of Sallie’s collar.  It was meditative—and the moment I thought that, I broke the spell.

I kept walking, going in and out of this state where thinking, conscious active thinking, is not in control.  It’s like another country.  It’s a place I like to visit.

While I was there:

I felt sad for Japan and envisioned this tsunami that’s caused so much danger, loss, hardship.  I wondered about Tomoko, my childhood friend from Kyoto.  We lost touch about twenty five years ago.  She stayed with us for a month the summer I was thirteen and I still have the lime green Japanese-English dictionary she gave me when she left.  She made me promise to come visit someday and bring it along.  I never made it.  I wonder what this exact moment of her life looks like.

I thought of a book I’ve read several times, The Lady and the Monk, by Pico Iyer, about his life in Japan.  I thought of my dad, who served there during World War Two.  He never talked about the war much.  He said he dug latrines.  He said he saw Tokyo flattened.  He said it was a waste, a terrible waste.  He said the Japanese children would run after the American soldiers, crying, “Candy mister, candy?”  He said they were gentle and beautiful.  He had an eagle tattooed on his arm and  for the longest time I assumed that everyone in the Army had to get an eagle tattoo.  I mentioned that once as a kid and he looked at me oddly—a look I now know was bemused—and said that, no, that wasn’t a requirement, he’d done that all on his own.  He said it hurt.  A lot.  He had brought back from Japan a very few things:  some coins, a knife in a wooden sheath, a fringed, plum-colored piece of silk embroidered all over with tiny flowers.

I watched the sun rise on our way back to the east.  It was a wash of orangey-pink, glorious and quiet, and soon gone.

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