Our chicken house is a very chichi little abode. The girls have old New England white clapboard siding, a dark green tin roof, and bright red doors Inside they have electricity, heat and light. There are wonderful laying boxes filled with warm pine shavings and sweet smelling hay. There is a high pitched roof just like in a small child’s drawing of a house which has wonderful rafters for roosting. And down lower there is another roost for the older gals who don’t get up so high anymore. The coop behind the house is fenced in all around, with a roof and an underground bit that goes about 2 feet down to discourage the foxes and bears. Mostly they free range during the warm months, but with us and the dogs around they are quite safe. Since we are inside in the winter they have the coop so they can go out safely if they want. There is even a wee chicken door, so that the big doors can be kept closed and the heat tucked inside. It is a chicken paradise. The coop floor is not just the cold hard ground, but also is covered with a deep soft bed of pine shavings. So even in winter their ground is never frozen or completely cold. It is a good place for chickens. Recently I got to spend a little time seeing just how good.
The front door swings open wide and has a latch on the side of the building for those warm summer days when we want to keep it open all day. It locks from the outside so that we can tuck them up safely every night and they can sleep soundly whiteout worry of a hungry bear fancying herself a chicken dinner. Inside there is a handy little contraption for opening the door, with a little thingy attached to the outside lock in case of accidentally getting locked in. Thingy is not the technical term. But this piece of equipment doesn’t really require a technical name, since it was an afterthought when the builder was almost done, and just about fed up with my chicken house accessories. He didn’t think we needed the windows for one thing. And the flower boxes seemed particularly ridiculous to him. By the time I got to the part about worrying over getting locked in he thought I was a nutcase, and we got a sort of encased wired that went through a little hole and wrapped around the lock. It is so tiny you can’t really see it, and it seemed functional enough, so I didn’t much care.
Until the other day…when the wire thingy froze and broke off cleanly and completely. I was on the inside, and I’d shut the door tight as I fed the girls some leftover biscuits and potatoes. They were clucking happily around my feet and I was petting them and thinking how glad I was, with three feet of snow outside, that I’d built them such a snug little home. It surely is snug. The wire broke off on the other side, and I stood dumbly looking at it like so many goofy Lucy episodes. I leaned on the door and was rewarded with a solid immovable wall. The windows don’t open and I couldn’t risk glass all over with a bunch of unruly chickens who do not ever do what they are told. Big sweet fluffy things with teensy little brains is what they are. The back door was likewise shut tight. The cute little wee chicken door is easily big enough for a chicken. I am, alas, considerably larger than that. I started trying to yell. I actually said Heelllp! In a loud and pathetic sort of scream, that died away on the wind. But not before causing havoc in the chicken house. Squealing birds fluttered around my head in a race for the rafters. Their human had clearly gone crazy. And they were not amused.
Now the floor is soft, but of course there is the little matter of chicken poop. And while chickens love perching on their roosts, long round bars do not work so well for an ample backside like mine. No place to sit, poop on the floor, a house that sits about 500 feet away. And a husband watching a British football match with kids who notice me primarily when they are hungry or need a ride was not a recipe for a quick rescue.
So I talked to the girls and thought how this would make a funny story. And then I panicked and beat at the door. And when I got tired of that I thought about how this could be sort of a Zen thing and how I am so well centered now that I live in Vermont close to nature, and how I could start meditating which I have long meant to do. I would be like that monk who came to the mountains and wrote beautiful essays about his soul’s unfurling. That worked for about three minutes. Then pretty well unfurled, I started thinking how I could die out here since John wouldn’t feed the chickens before tomorrow, and what if he’d heard me say I’d fed the chickens, and so he waited until tomorrow night, and I would be cold and hungry and miserable, and not dead but certainly and deeply unhappy. And then my teeth started to chatter because the heat lamp works better when you are up high where it is, but I can’t fly, and my fingers were getting sort of stiff and I wondered about frostbite, and then I did jumping jacks and the chickens went crazy over that, and like six rats trapped inside a coffee can my thoughts went round like that for a while. So then I decided I live in Vermont, I am a Vermonter now by God, and I could sit in a little chicken poop. So I did. Turns out the floor really was soft, and a couple of the birds came down beside me and clucked and fluttered and made some heat. And then I beat on the door for a while again. Next I tried to calm the chickens down by singing old Methodist hymns. They liked those better than my beating on the door, but not so much as you’d think, so I switched to lullabies. They loved those and pretty soon we were snuggled back on the floor together, me and Edith and Jenny. Mildred and Louise would fly down from time to time. then they’d go back up with the rest of the flock for more heat. I couldn’t blame them. I considered trying to unplug the heat lamp and slowly tug it around and down from the rafter, but I worried, I’d pull too hard, drop it, and catch the hay on fire and of course I imagined the house on fire with me in it. So then I beat on the door for a while again. And then…a miracle…John noticed I hadn’t come back in. He’d worried maybe I’d fallen in the ice and snow and he’d come looking for me. I was saved. I laughed. I hugged him….I was so glad. He was my shining knight.
On the way inside laughing arm and arm like teenagers I asked him what time it was..He said, “Oh you’ve been gone, about ten minutes”….I jerked my arm away and pranced off in huff to see for myself. And OF COURSE he was WRONG.
It had only been about nine……