Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Now that I´ve shown you all the lofty art stuff, let´s get back to reality here.
My reality, for the next couple of days anyway, is in the grubby far corner of the yard, where lives our flock of hens. We have, or had, five fine brown hens. We like them very well. They eat, peck, squawk, and poo, and three of them lay eggs. They are quite tame, and don´t mind being picked up and cuddled. Each has a name, even though that´s considered outré in these parts. They are: Gladys, Rosie, Muriel, Snowy, and our favorite, Blodwyn.
On Tuesday we visited the Hen Boutique in Sahagún, and brought home a crate tightly packed with six young hens: The New Girls. (It´s hard not calling them The Black Girls, because they are black chickens. But some people are overly sensitive. Even though the chickens don´t give a shit.)
The New Girls are compact and sleek and have long, graceful necks. Their combs and wattles are tiny and rose-red. Two of them have scatterings of brown feathers on their fronts, as if they´d been racing on a muddy track. They shipped in from the East, from faraway Zaragoza. They are exotic.
Integrating two groups of chickens into one flock requires plenty of picking up and handling, stroking and cooing on my part, and lots of squawking and pooing on the hens´. Like any established community, the Resident Hens look with suspicion at the Immigrants. Integrating a neighborhood is never easy.
These New Girls are wild birds, unused to humans and handling, apt to shriek and flap and fly when approached.
Shrieking, flapping, flying chickens are almost irresistible to bird dogs. Like Tim. Who, years ago now, efficiently slew one of our original hens within moments of his arrival at The Peaceable. (It is a difficult memory for us all. We don´t bring it up very often, as Tim is a Reformed Dog.)
The dogs, and Murph Cat too, are accustomed to visiting the Hen Pen whenever we do. There are mice in there sometimes, and Una is passionate about those. And both dogs live in fear that we may give the hens some food scrap that is Rightfully Theirs. So bread crusts and potato eyes the dogs would never dream of tasting take on a new glamour when they hit the hardpan of the chicken yard. (Murphy keeps watch from the woodpile.)
But now that the new hens are enclosed inside the Hen House, and the old girls are isolated outside, Una and Tim must stay outside the chicken run completely. With all The Girls feeling a bit raw about things, I figure they don´t need two dogs sniffing around. And I see how the dogs are eyeing those new girls. I can feel their pupils dilating when I pick up one of the New Girls and she howls and flaps. I have to shout at Una to stop clawing at the gate, and the shouting is no good when I´m trying to teach the little black pullet in my hands that I am a sweet and peaceful creature who means her no harm. (And the gate is always on the verge of falling over or to pieces, anyway. The Chicken Hut is the most Appalachian part of our establishment, and it never seems to get better.)
They seem tough, these new girls, streetwise even. I don´t connect to them as easily as I did the soft brown ones. They don´t seem like girls at all. They´re hardened veterans, in black uniforms. Like nuns. Tough old Dominican nuns, maybe. The kind who used to smack kids´hands with rulers.
So maybe, once I get to know them better, and learn how to tell one from the others, I will give them nun names, like Teresa and Inmaculada and Anuncia. Or maybe I´ll give them truck-stop waitress names: Gloria and Vita and Madge.
But I´m waiting to see if perhaps they really are fine young ladies in Little Black Dresses who are just scared out of their wits. They could turn out to be Heathers and Ashleys. Alexandras, even. Time will tell.
This evening, after everyone should have gone to roost, I heard a hullabaloo from the hens. I went out to see.
Up on the old, drawer-less dresser where they roost and lay eggs, the original five cowered in a row against the wall, howling and screeching their lungs out, as if a fox was eating his way up their legs.
On the ground below three of the New Girls strutted and pecked their way around the Brown Girls´ food dispenser, deaf to the racket in the gallery above. Una barked. One of them stopped, flapped her wings, and stretched her neck up tall.
She clucked like a chicken. But what I heard her say was, "You wanna piece a dis? Step right up, pal."