So yeah–we thought it would take two weeks to turn half of the tack room we no longer need into new digs for our chickens. like most construction projects these days, we were a little optimistic. We are at the end of the 2nd month of work. The chicken coop, with lots and lots of repurposed materials, is getting close to being done. Outside: stained and sealed. One part of the apron of panel fencing that goes down all around it to coop to keep predators tunneling in has already been put down but we have more to do.
Inside, the painting is largely done and the nest box condo is up–although it’s coming down about 7-8 inches so the sweet hens don’t get vertigo getting in to lay their eggs. Also, I even have some paint on my eyelashes…
We designed the coop so the Mallowman is able to pull the tractor right up to the entrance so I can shovel the pine shavings into the tractor’s bucket. We will do this quite regularly to keep the coop sweet smelling and clean. Cart it off to a corner out of the way, let that stuff sit for a while so it makes awesome compost.
The bottom half of one side of the front swings open and the other full door opens too–that’s where the tractor will stop. My eternally, awesomely creative spouseman has rigged up a little door we’ll be able to bring up to let the girls out each day and close at nightfall. One day, I hope to talk him into letting me install an automatic door that you can program to open and close at daybreak and sunset. Until then, that line, “Up with the chickens” will describe my early mornings, rain or shine.
We think we’ve provided enough ventilation and can also do more if the need arises. There will be panels to cover all the windows when the weather gets really cold.
So what’s left? We are making roosts for the ladies (and I read they should all be equally high because otherwise the pecking order fusses that get stirred up are mighty). I will rake out a lot of the dirt on the bottom of the coop and we are going to cover it with pea gravel (Bubba’s Materials in Prattville sells them for a reasonable price); this helps with drainage. A five or so inch of pine shavings will cover the gravel. We keep finding spaces a snake could slither through but those are easily closed with insulation foam. And then, it will be time to set up the electric fence to keep predators away during the day. Our older ladies will go into their new space in about 2 weeks and our newest babies will follow about 5-6 weeks later.
I had ordered twelve little chicks but some did not hatch so I only got eight. I’ll wait until early spring to get another four. The bit I am most thrilled about is that in March, I am also preparing to take delivery of two goslings, I hope gray Pomeranians; you can see what they look like here. When they grow up, they will be a huge help with air predators. Plus they are just too cool for school.
A month ago today, my time of hiking and exploring in Maine had ended. I drove away from the tiny house I was staying in, go into Portland so I could catch my flight the next morning. All I had left was a stop in Brunswick for a quick visit at an arts center I’d heard about. There’ll be more to tell about that visit soon. But today, in my home office, with my girl Tuxie sprawled out next to me, and the chirps of little peeps filtering in from the Florida room right next to my office, the whole month of September feels like it happened a lifetime ago. That realization is sobering.
I think I wrote elsewhere that as my flight approached for landing in Portland, I sensed an unexpected shift inside of me, a loosening of some of the things that too easily hold me captive, including anxiety and perfectionism. It was thrilling in the days that followed to simply show up, to practice ‘disponibilité,’ making myself available to what each day might bring. I look back on the day after I got home, when the rug slipped out from under my foot and wonder: was that a metaphorical fall back to earth? I had come home so determined to return to the ordinariness of my life with the kind of freedom I’d been graced to receive in Maine .
Clergy types like I often comment that October is insane in the life of a congregation. There are all kinds of reasons for the insanity and this time around was no different. Day by day, the sense of freedom got eroded a little bit, and then a little bit more, and then again, another little bit more. I can retrace my steps over the past month and see the places I kept losing bits and pieces of that ‘lightness of being’ I was so thankful for. At the same time, I can also see the moments when I was able to stop, to breathe, when I remembered and insisted for myself that even in this most crazy of months, the freedom is still possible, is still there for the taking.
About 10 days ago we had couple of frosty nights. The kudzo is in retreat; that always pleases me. But what was really the very best, was the color that suddenly burst into flame. In the morning, when the light hits just right, you come around a curve on Old Selma Road, and I at least, just have to pull to the side. I came across a gorgeous line in a book review in the NYT this morning that says it perfectly:
“ Whoever stood there and looked at this would never want to utter even a single word; such a person would simply look, and be silent.”1
There is a large parcel of pastureland right across the road from our home. About two weeks ago the hay that had grown almost waist high was harvested; bales and bales lay scattered around the field until yesterday when some began to get hauled away. Again, it is the light, the golden light of a fall afternoon, that makes my heart calm itself into the kind of slow, steady rhythm that says, ‘you are alive. You are alive. You are alive.’
And then, of course, the cuteness overload that comes at 7 o’clock in the morning, when our lovely post office lady calls and says, “Miss Rosa, your chickens are here,” and you throw on a jacket, hop in the car and turn up the heat full blast. The box you receive is so tiny and so loud. The little ones, when you put them in their temporary brooder, are so stunned and bewildered. There’s the awe that they haven’t been alive for more than about 52 hours and yet survived a journey of hundreds of miles and are now eager to take up life in this strange new world. The forgotten delight, watching them discover water, take a small sip and then, bend back their heads, put their tiny beaks up in the air, so the water can gurgle down their throats.
Yup, October gets cra-cra with stewardship drives, Advent planning, budget planning, people getting sick, others getting their hearts shattered, with budgets and sermons. All that is true. So is the dazzled curiosity of my funny girl dog figuring out about those itty, bitty, tiny, little biddies.
Retracing my steps to September, finding even just a tiny little piece, one as small as Julian’s hazelnut, holding it in my hand as carefully as I hold the fluffy little peeps, I am reminded, freedom is still there for the choosing.
I woke up a couple of times last night; the feeling I had both times was that I was crushed under a load of bricks. The weeks since I returned from Maine have been insanely busy and every now and then, woven through the days, has been the news that there’s some real concern about another Covid-19 wave washing over the holidays. It would certainly fit with the way this has gone since 2020.
So yesterday, this person who hates shots more than just about anything, got herself to Publix and I bit the bullet—I got the new booster supposed to be more effective against omicron and since I was already getting one shot, I decided, what the heck, I’ll go ahead and get the flu shot too. The vaccines hit me hard. This morning, I feel like I managed to crawl out from under the pile of bricks and my whole body is bruised and battered. Plus, it feels like it took all night to get out from under there so I am exhausted. I may still one or the other—both viruses are pretty vicious and insidious. The hope is, the vaccines should help me get less sick if I do get infected. Even more, I am thankful for a step I could take to keep others I love in my family and my church a little safer. This PSA is simple: I hope you will get a booster. And maybe the flu shot isn’t a bad idea either…
For all intents and purposes, Sherod and I live in a food desert. The closest grocery store is 10 miles away, in Hayneville, the seat of Lowndes County. In the middle of a number of little towns with no grocery stores of their own, the A&G can get away with being quite expensive; this is supply and demand. We drive about 24 miles each way to do our regular shopping at the Publix in Prattville. At this time of the year, our pantry and freezer are also well stocked with the produce we grew and put up this summer. For some of the more exotic food we enjoy, I am always grateful for the UPS person who delivers our packages and is kind and friendly. Less and less though, does it seem right to get food delivered when I know how much it adds to our carbon footprint.
As much as we put up, sometimes, the harvest is so plentiful we struggle for space to put it all up. We continue to be more than a little apprehensive about the fragility of the Earth we call our ‘island home’ so we are planning and preparing for the season of sowing in 2023 that will come as quickly as all the seasons seem to arrive these days. If all the pieces come together, we will have so much!
While I was in Maine last month, mostly driving along country roads, I was very aware of all the little farm stands, that dotted the routes of coastal Maine. They tugged at me. Then, on the last leg of my journey, I stayed in a “Tiny House” in Sorrento, about 45 minutes away from Acadia National Park where I hiked as much as possible. To get out to the road that carried me to Acadia, I drove by a small stand quite different from others I’d seen. The sign on the side only said, “Flowers.” It had a little overhang covered in what I assume was something like “Sunbrella” fabric—bright pink with a floral print, resistant to the elements. It made the stand pop! At first, I just drove by, tickled by its existence. Finally, one day, I stopped and went up to it. There were mason jars filled with beautiful, simple arrangements, and a small sign that said, “Bouquets, $10.00.” I noticed a videocam high in one of the corners of the stand, a piece of technology to pay by credit card, and a money box bolted into another corner.
I couldn’t resist myself—I ultimately bought a bouquet for my godchild, delighted beyond all measure by a ‘shopping experience’ that was both so gracious and easy, and paradoxically, a little unsettling because I couldn’t thank the person who daily gathers and offers her flowers to folks like me.I saw a little post-it pad and pen on the shelf with the flowers and I was glad to at least get to leave a note.
I’ve been back from that glorious trip, for a little over two weeks now. I keep thinking, “I can do that.” Even more, I hear myself say, “I want to do that.”
There are layers and layers of desire mixed together in that small voice. In a week, 12 little biddies will arrive in the mail and if all goes as I hope, by the spring we will have quite a few eggs available each day, way more than Sherod and I can use. If I have learned anything in these 8 years on the farm, I have learned about the abundance of creation (including chickens and chicken poop–endles amounts of it!) My faith instructs me that abundance is for sharing, not hoarding.
There’s also that whole thing about being true to myself, all of me. My extraordinary friend C was an actor from before we started college so she took all kinds of theater courses, including one where she focused on the tech side of theater production. I remember being astounded when she talked about building sets—sawing, and drilling, and hammering, all those good things that go with construction. It was one of the first ways that my very stereotypical understanding of what it means to be a woman was shattered. Increasingly, and especially on this last trip, I have allowed myself to be surprised by all that my body is capable of. There is a deep, quiet joy that goes with the realization that this self, even past middle age and now in the beginnings of the final chapters of life, can do so much. The thought that C. and I could build a stand like the one in Sorrento is at once mind-blowing for me and also very reasonable. We’ plan to take on this project next spring.
I am intrigued by the notion of ‘honesty farm stands’ as some folks call them. My spouseman has already wondered aloud if something like an unsupervised stand can work where we live, one of the poorest counties in the whole country. In the quiet of the insomnia that usually visits a couple of times a week, I have imagined our stand serving as a ‘break-in magnet’ and felt that feather-light touch of fear that makes me hesitate and stumble. Of course, it’s entirely possible that an enterprise like this would fail. But what if we take some reasonable precautions and refuse to let fear make our choices?
Because you see, in the end, for me, this is about extending hospitality to the stranger. I can still hear my Hebrew Scriptures prof at Sewanee, Mr. Griffin, with a voice as beautiful as God’s, speak to us about the phrase, “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5). Mr. Griffin explained how it reflects a fundamental truth for desert people: you don’t put down roots, you are a nomad, and not only a nomad, but a nomad in the midst of harsh and dangerous desert realities. If you know this is who you are, you also know the imperative of hospitality, perhaps especially to the stranger. You provide for that stranger because it could just as easily be you standing in need, because almost for sure, you will one day depend on the generosity and hospitality of a stranger for your very survival. I may not have lived in the desert, but I know in my bones what it means to be a wanderer.
During the season after Pentecost, the growing season (which in a liturgical church is also called “ordinary time”), we almost always have way more than we need, even if we make provision for storing food for the months when the land lies fallow and the chickens ladies feel too chilly to want to lay any eggs. I may not have a garden like the person whose flower stand brought me such joy in Maine, but there are some weeks in the late spring and early summer when the roses, the daisies, the lavender, and black-eyed susans are just breath-taking. Flowers, some eggs, some blueberries or blackberries, maybe even a few loaves of peach loaf, could bring real delight to others.
It would be nice to get a little cash for whatever I put out. But what really matters is the thought that someone will receive a gift of our land, even if they don’t have the means or will to drop a bit of change in the cashbox. This simple plan feels like a very real way of giving witness, of being grateful for, an abundance that isn’t mine to hoard.
Every Sunday, right before the start of the Eucharistic prayer, the Great Thanksgiving when, I raise the collection plates brought up by the ushers at my church. I say, “All things come of thee O Lord” and the congregation responds, “and of thine own have we given thee.” Maybe a little farmstand almost at the end of Brown Hill Road, will be a way of living that truth out in the corner of Alabama that today I call home.