Today is one of those lovely spring days you get when it seems as though life is simply bursting forth exuberantly all around. Birds are singing, butterflies are drifting about, the trees are ablaze with blooms, and even the air is perfumed with the subtle yet significant fragrance of flowers, mostly hyacinths. While enjoying such beautiful weather on only the third day of spring makes me extremely leery, I have nonetheless set up a temporary office out in the church courtyard to experience as much of this as possible even as I’m hoping against the great possibility that we could have a freezing episode that could squelch much of this present but early energy.
Days like today demonstrate just how precious all this is and one needs to drink in the beauty. It also can lend one to wax poetic, or prosaic as the case may be.
Life in tenacious. Albeit a mild winter…yet so much abundance ready to spring out after a few days of warm sunshine. Even the small critters in the soil—ants, slugs, and earthworms—have become active. As I type this I share the courtyard space with my two hens, city chickens who have become like congregational mascots to our parish. With the rumble of the M subway train in the distance and the honks and sirens of urban traffic, Ila and Lisa (those are the hens’ proper names) scamper about the small tidy churchyard eating grass, scratching up insects and sprouts, and sunning themselves in the rays of sunlight that filter through the trees and around the neighboring buildings.
I often get asked, “Why do you have chickens?” and have put a lot of thought into the answer. One response is that it has become “cool,” perhaps a fad in many places. I certainly don’t find that a legitimate reason by any means for me to have poultry in the city, but it does demonstrate that we’re not the only ones.
On a beautiful day as today however, with them frolicking about me, let me put down in words the reasons why I have chickens:
- First and foremost, I have them for food—the eggs they produce. It may seem like a small thing and perhaps akin to anyone raising their own summer tomatoes or pot of herbs—be it in their backyard, stoop, or patio—but in growing (raising, nurturing, assisting into fruition) the food you consume it connects you to that which is basic, primal, and universal in our humanity, and something that is quickly being lost in our modern society. In the United States fewer than two percent of the population are farmers and way too many of us are so far removed from where physical nourishment comes from. So, having chickens keeps me grounded and keeps me connected to the food I eat. Plus, it really good food! The eggs are really fresh and local and mostly organic and I know exactly what the girls eat, thus I know the kind of food that I eat. They also blend in well with my garden and that whole backyard ecology thing, eating bugs and weeds and things that I can’t and using their poo to fertilize my vegetables. For instance, because they regularly get to “free range” and eat a goodly amount of green grass and other plants, they produce eggs with a higher concentration of heart healthy omega 3’s. I also appreciate the wonderful little circle of life I’m surrounded by. There is too the issue of the meat that they could provide. When I first got them as fuzzy little peeps I certainly thought that I could someday eat them. I’ve slaughtered poultry in the past and have experience in the process. Due to particular circumstances, however, the girls have ended up as my pets and not my dinner.
- Which brings me to the second aspect, which is so true on a day like today. They are my pets and they are a lot of fun just to watch and interact with. Even if they weren’t pets, they’re still fascinating critters to observe. And relaxing too. Animals, whether from nature or domestic are important for people to connect to, to stay connected with life, and even, to what makes us human. To take time and enjoy all of God’s creation.
- Just as importantly, I have chickens because they connect me with where I came from. I’ve shared in this blog before about growing up on a dairy farm where we also had chickens. My parents farmed, my grandparents farmed, my great grandparents farmed—with my great grandfather being a full time chicken farmer back in the day. Having chickens in New York City, while hardly making me a farmer, certainly connects me to my roots and my family for many generations, and that is important to me.
So, that’s some of why I have chickens.
But there are additional benefits. Every Sunday morning the kids purposely bee-line it over to Ila’s and Lisa’s coop to check up on them. Participants in our Narcotics Anonymous and Al Anon programs regularly inquire of them. Our Ladies Aid/Frauenverein have even incorporated the girls’ eggs into their bake sales. Even folks from the neighborhood who might otherwise walk quickly past the church will slow down and look for the girls. Oddly enough, they’ve become a tool for outreach!
Yesterday, during confirmation class the youth described their image of God. We had a lot of that traditional “old man in a robe” stuff. But we also included the beautiful image that Christ uses desiring to embrace and hold Jerusalem as a mothering hen (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34). Every now and again, the chickens can become a teaching device too!