Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now I Want Chickens

Meet Caley, my dog. She is not a farm animal and she has no job to do other than to sit artfully around the house as if Diego Velazquez might happen by. Caley would be most annoyed if I were to follow through on this morning's vaguery--to buy backyard chickens, though they would certainly upstage her productivity.

But just the other day, J and I were driving home on a nearby street, when he suddenly lurched his head around and exclaimed that he'd just seen a flock of chickens in someone's yard. He was incredulous; suggesting that it must be a recent immigrant family that brought them in. I informed him, however, that raising chickens was the new, best thing in gardening. Fresh eggs; ready, steady fertilizer; and even something to throw in a pot, if for some reason you couldn't walk the few blocks to Whole Foods. We pondered the idea together and considered turning around to go gawk at the menagerie, but we had to hurry home.

This morning, I got up earlier than I really should and settled in with my New Yorker and found Susan Orlean (I have a secret crush on her only because I just wish that by now in my career I was as famous a writer as she is). And of course, she's one-upped me again, because she's moved to the country and bought chickens. And the chickens are lending her a special credibility in the arena of gardening elite and domestic goddess. "When one of my hens laid my first home-grown egg," she writes, "I was as proud as if I had been attending my daughter's bat mitzvah." I know this emotion. I've shared it many times. When my first tomato ripened. When my mixture of grass and leaves and kitchen waste turned to black compost gold. When my eggplant plant (is that what you call it?) delivered. This is the ecstasy the domestic goddess achieves when her efforts bear fruit.

So calculating my latest vaguery. . .That would include purchase and upkeep of a chicken coop ($1,000, because everything costs $1,000 to begin with); nurturing and care of said chickens (do you walk them on a leash?); veterinarian bills (rabies shots?); neighbor complaints (attorney fees?); J's protestations (divorce attorney?), and of course, Caley's feelings (the elite Cavalier King Charles Spaniel's bark is pitched at an ear-drum-shattering spike). . . my first egg would likely be costly.

The truth of the matter is that Orlean, because she's such a great writer and observer of life and culture, nailed it right were it hurts. Pegged me with this provocative observance, that chickens seem to go "hand-in-glove with the post-feminist reclamation of other farmwife domestic arts--knitting, canning, quilting. . . . newly appreciated as a declaration of self-sufficiency, a celebration of handiwork."

My hero is a cynic. True scorn for the post-feminist working/wife/mother/hand-maiden still to male dominance. Us girls, clinging to the hope that we might have stepped up and out of our domestic roles and always hoping to briefly touch on Orlean-like fame. Oh, if only, we just had 37 more hours in the day to do it all, and raise chickens, too. The Putterer

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