Chicken Dreams is the blog of journalist/writer and vegan Julie Akins who raises chickens and grows organic veggies in the backyard of her family home. She is joined by her daughter Angela and her four year old granddaughter Kyra, who is the “chicken mom.” They have a flock of seven chickens: Rosie, Henny, Happy the rooster, Dandelion, Rosemary, Flower, and Star Moon, the other rooster. The following essay, “Rosie’s Choice,” first appeared on Chicken Dreams.
Rosie is a skeptical chicken. She is the only standard type of farm yard chicken, a black Sexlink, living in a flock with six others in a grassy, suburban backyard. While the others lounge all day in the sun sucking down organic berries, Rosie often feels the weight of worry. All the others in her coop community are much smaller ornamental birds who seem to have it imprinted in their DNA that they are show chickens and pets. Rosie is the only one who would have a sad fate were she hatched into a home of omnivores rather than her human vegan family.
Her best friend, Henny Penny, is a tiny Golden Seabright who glows when the sun hits her small, fastidious body. The breed type names are of course just made up by human animals but those names combined with the assigned “use” of these birds are literally life and death. Sometimes Rosie seems quite aware of this. She is edgier and more nervous than the others, especially Henny.
On this summer Saturday afternoon she is grounded; her feet lock on a small, wooden plank designed for the flightless chickens in the group to line up away from the ground. Her long toes curl around the edge of the wood and her wings tightly tuck around her like a blanket. She seems still even though I know she is always moving if only in her heart where she purrs and frets in small breaths. Her green eyes look up and focus on Henny who flies effortlessly, circling above her and landing in the highest spot in their shared coop. Rosie’s longing swells in her chest as she leans forward willing herself into flight. Yet she stops. Dips her head. Lets out a small, sad song.
Chickens are birds first and they do not like being tethered to the Earth but prefer any sensation of being above it. As a result their coop is equipped with various roosting bars and planks at different heights. For the flying type there are some boxes stacked high so they can fly up and duck in for a little private time to catch up on personal chicken dreaming.
Rosie gazes up at her dearest friend who softly calls to her from the top box, tilting her small golden head; ‘Come up friend, let’s chat the day away and watch the corn grow.’ Rosie looks at Henny and her eyes turn soft, tilting her head too, she lets out a long, soulful cry; ‘I can’t get up there–it’s too high!’
Rosie can fly and jump quite high but she does it with trepidation and fear. She has been this way since she was just a baby chicken dreaming of flight, loving it, yet fearing it.
Henny doesn’t have this fear. She lifts her wings and flies with authority and grace. She is small as a Robin and as powerful also. She has been known to fly the length of the yard and land on my head. When she does this I have the very real sensation of being a landing pad. I can hear the sound of her wings and feel the wind of them as she flies by my face. I hold my breath. I hold my face still. I anticipate. I am delighted and afraid. I am not programmed to have birds land on me but I want to be. I fear. I love.
She lands so lightly on my hair, skin, bones. She is a look out, I am her tower. I am useful, the fear leaves and I am smiling, laughing yet unmoving and exhilarated. I wonder; how does this look? Then I forget the question because what matters is how it feels. I am soaking it in and suddenly she is gone, off to fly to her next destination. I think, funny how that fear comes then changes to joy and love each time.
Henny flies powerfully and lands lightly. That’s so like her. She is a bird only fashioned in love. If she has fear it doesn’t show. She flies easily, loves deeply and sings joyfully from her perch all day. When she tires of height and flight she breaks the rules and lays sprawled in the sun her belly toward the sky unafraid.
Rosie marvels at her pal yet she walks the plank and bar with caution and looks left and right even before sipping water at the cooler for fear of something, anything sneaking up on her. But her fearful nature does not concern Henny. She continues calling out to Rosie and even prancing on the high spot stopping to lift her wings like a Cormorant in the sun. She is full of humor.
Then it happens. Rosie walks sideways like a person traversing a steep hillside to the roosting bar. She teeters, catches her balance, lifts her sturdy, able wings, catches air flying straight up and lands next to her friend. It’s an awkward affair with feet coming in at two different angles and wings out like she balancing on a tight rope, but she still gets there.
They sit and begin chatting. Before long the conversation becomes gentle and slow as the sun filters through the wire of their yard and settles around them splashing around their wings in a communal glow. There is no fear, only love. Once again Rosie is living in her choice to fight fear.Henny gives her a peck on the beak and smiles with her body, wings dipping and eyes shining as she looks in her friends face who is squawking loudly; ‘Henny, why must you force me to do this every day?’
Calling comes daily in the coop and the choice presents itself; love or fear? Each day Rosie chooses love, reluctantly yet entirely.
Rosie teaches one wobbly step and flight at a time that love must be her decision, that courage is being afraid and pushing through to a better place.
I know her fear. Can I choose her love?
Julie Akins is an author, blogger, and Emmy-winning broadcast journalist who found us from idyllic southern Oregon. Here is a picture of the four generations of vegan women in her family: Julie (center), with her mom Mary Ellen Christie, daughter Angela (a vegan chef), and four-year-old granddaughter Kyra. We are so lucky to welcome her into our Peaceful Dumpling community! Stay toned for more stories from her family (human and animal) and co-cooking posts with chef Angela!
More beautiful essays: Notes from Ethiopia- the Land of Sun, Injera, and Running