Bellina and Fluffy were my first experience of parental responsibility. I had raised them from eggs in an incubator at school, waiting impatiently for the first cracks to appear on the shells and the little beaks to bust out. My heart was bursting as they blinked up at me for the first time, and my devotion to their safety ran deep as I transferred them home. My parents had agreed to my request for two, one more chick than most of my classmates, and I was proud to be accountable for the extra responsibility. That spring I may have been the luckiest kid on Earth, having two baby chicks and two baby kittens at the same time, hopping around in bliss on a sunny Easter sunday. That single holiday might be the sole reason I continue to like Easter (being Jewish it doesn’t really hold much significance for me besides an excuse to eat candy).
But the joy began to fade as we discovered that Fluffy was a rooster. Instead of snuggling and petting and laying eggs for the family, he tore around the yard, puffing up his wings and charging like a bull at anything that moved. My brother instilled the strategy of going out the door first, distracting Fluffy by running around and waving his arms as I darted to the car, avoiding the violent pecks and gouges that would ensue if my bare little legs were otherwise discovered. My brother’s courage still envokes in me deep gratitude for this valiant and protective daily deed.
Things got even worse. Bellina, who consistently displayed a rare mix of patience, sweetness, and prolific egg laying as she grew into a plump hen, was discovered late one night by the neighbor’s dogs. There was no saving her. I still remember a fleeting, teary glimpse of bright red blood on pure white feathers as my dad quickly removed the evidence. Fluffy on the other had, survived with might. Not only did he receive the same treatment from the pack of dogs that delivered Bellina’s demise, but he uncannily displayed little if any residual harm or torment from the literally scarring event. He went on to live an unusually long life, surviving two more attacks, one of which was a coyote bite that left him barely hanging on.
And so it is with a combination of excitement and trepidation that I enter into parenthood once again. Our ten little chicks arrived almost three weeks ago, small, fragile and chirping with need. We have since gone through the scares of pasty butt, the thrills of a first perch, and the pride of aphid eating. All ten are still holding strong, spreading out into their expanded three room cardboard suite. Our living room glows demon red day and night and our electric bill is most likely growing just as rapidly as the chicks are. A deluxe coop, crafted of scavenged wood and repurposed materials from our property, is in the works. And it will be a fortress, double dug and fenced to fend off the array of mountain preditors waiting in the wings. Soon the day will come for the babies to venture out into the wide world, and I am trying my hardest to imagine the task of letting go and accepting what fate will provide for them.