Farm Follies

Death and the Hen

So, Angel, unfortunately, did not make it. Her death is not really a shock, I suppose. Chickens are fragile creatures.

A couple of years back, I remember a man and his son stopped at the farm. Frantic.

“Do you know anything about chickens?” The father had pleaded. “We bought a bunch, and they are dying.” He opened his trunk to reveal about fifty chicks, half of which were dead. I watched as each minute a chick would stop and die. I had no answer for him then, and I have no answer now.

Things get sick.

Things die.

“It’s O.K.” Kitt said when I told her about Angel.

Her reaction is also not shocking. As we live on a farm, death is a natural part of the landscape. Last year’s pig? She’s in the freezer. That steer you named? The steak you ate for dinner.

I am not sure, however, of what her actual four-year-old concept of death is. Honestly, I am not even sure what my forty-one-year-old concept of death is. Most days, I believe that we are so much more than these suits of flesh that connect us to this plane. Others, I wonder if death is the end. If that last breath we take is our last connection to anything.

“I could never live on a farm,” my mother told me as she tried to nurse the chicken back to health. “All of these animals have little souls. I don’t know how you do it.”

I have thought a lot about this living on the farm. I think about it when I watch our herd leave an older cow to babysit while the rest go to graze. I think about it when I look into the lamb’s eyes as I feed him hay and pet him. I think about it when I have to knee one of our bucket fed calves back because she thinks my vagina is food.

And then I think of Kitt.

I am jealous of her, really. My first taste of death came the summer after my 7th grade year when a classmate was killed in a car accident. Having been at our camp on Moosehead Lake for the week, I had been incomminucado. I learned about her death only after the funeral. I spent the next week or so expecting everyone I knew to die. If death could happen to her, it could happen to anyone, at any time.  I started imagining the horrific demises of all of my loved ones. My father died being electrocuted while trying to fix a paper machine in the mill. My mother died driving home a little too fast on the highway. My sister died crossing the street. Everyone I looked at faded, and I was left with how each would leave me.

Kitt will realize, as she grows, that we all live. We all serve our purpose. And we all die. This idea will become a thread woven into her concept of life, as it is an integral part of my husband’s concept. While he and I may disagree about what happens after this life, I have to admire him for how he lives this one.

I told Kitt this morning that it is time to let the other chickens out of the coop, as they were big enough to start grazing. “Maybe we can get a cat cage so that the cats won’t kill the chickens,” she said. “We can put food and water in it so that they will be all right, too.”

Today I realize that we are all as fragile as that young hen we lost, and while some days force us to realize that death just happens, others have us holding it back in a small wire cage. Leaving it food and water, of course, because we wouldn’t want it to have to look elsewhere to be fed.