Wilhelmina and Fanny have arrived. The small coop has been unearthed from our garage and settled into the shady protection of our massive willow tree, against the front porch railing. I washed the water dish and put it beside the white porcelain bowl of chicken feed on the dirt floor of the two-storey, side-split “pollo-palace.” Chopped apple and carrot were laid out on a cedar board to complement the seeds and dried corn. As a veteran of fostering chickens, I have learned much about their temperaments and preferences.
The girls have two days in their coop to settle and familiarize themselves with their new home before being free to roam our yard. Foraging for bugs, bobbing and running for no apparent reason, happy with dust baths in the garden. Also occasionally terrorizing our dogs by rising up, flapping their wings, and squawking loudly while charging should a wet nose come too close. Amazingly, each evening at dusk, they will return to their abode, waddle up the ramp and settle for the night on the wood chips that line the loft floor.
Wilhelmina and Fanny are Ameraucana chickens. They are commonly called the Easter Egg variety because the shells are not the typical white or brown: instead, an assortment of shades of blue and green, sometimes even pink. The way to tell the girls apart is that Wilhelmina has black streaks on her beak. Fanny’s bill juts with determination beneath her bright red comb, a nondescript beige. Soon I will know their personalities.
The arrival of our chickens is one of the only reliable signs of spring for me. The weather may test my belief that summer is on the way. The girls wandering our yard, two fresh eggs daily, and their penetrating eyes peering through the glass door of my kitchen, fortifying my resolve to work on the land. Prepare for outdoor living.
Fostering chickens for six months each year brings me joy. It connects me to the miraculous rhythms choreographed by Mother Nature. I become a witness to the purity of free-range eggs. I experience a sliver of regenerative living as their poop and bedding, once composted, adds nitrogen to our gardens. And I am deeply engaged in their care and well-being.
Tending to pets, farm animals and land are beautifully wrapped gifts that haven’t been stolen by the pandemic. Just forgotten. And neglected. The gap between winter snow and warm weather living has been a flat-line blur of escalating Covid cases and pathetic ineptitude by decision-makers. I now realize that it wore me down. It drew me within my family, without a tether to the world outside. Without a desire to engage beyond the four walls. Or move off the down-filled sectional. After the novelty of the first five daffodils, even they were abandoned in the garden rather than gracing my table.
As I head to the coop to check on the girls, refill their water and food, clean up their roost, or deliver a treat of fruit and vegetable scraps, I pass by my blank vegetable garden. As though they sensed my disinterest, the weeds haven’t even bothered. It was one of several energetic projects of the first wave lockdown a year ago. Thankfully, my husband assumed seedling responsibilities earlier this spring. We now have a vibrant indoor nursery of vegetable shoots, eager for the soil to warm and trellises to be placed for climbing. If only Mother Nature could muster some hospitality.
April is a month that I would prefer to have excluded from our Gregorian calendar. It is a month of indecision, mud, false hope and stagnation. In my experience. Even in the never-ending lock-down and rolling incompetence of the fight for pandemic freedom, May holds energy and promise. As I engage with my chickens and collect my first green egg, I feel a surge of optimism. The garden centres are bursting with plants and flowers to beautify our outdoor space. I will turn the soil in my neglected vegetable patch in preparation for planting — beets, carrots, beans, peas and tomatoes. I will explore the property with my curious chickens. I will live outside more than inside. I will engage in unwrapping the gifts of natural creation.
At least, that is my experience.