Yesterday Morning

Yesterday morning, Jim and I went to check on the chicks in their fenced-in backyard coop, miniature sized for chicks. As we approached, the door to their coop was open and one chick was huddled by the fencing by herself.

Unusual, I noted to myself; normally they like to be near each other, huddled and on top of each other or pecking and scratching in close proximity.

Two Nights Ago

Two nights ago, we lost a chick sometime in the evening. Around 4pm, both Jim and I separately checked on the chicks as we went about our day and there were six chicks in the pen. Then at 5pm, we hopped on a Zoom call for a class we’re both in and by the time it wrapped up around 9:30pm, the sun was long gone.

When Jim reminded me about putting the chicks to bed, I jumped up and out of my seat, grabbed my head lamp, and headed down to their mini coop. When I arrived, five of them were huddled by the fencing in the dark. I quickly scooped them up, one by one, into my hands and gently laid them in the coop. Now, where is that sixth one?

Meet Pasty Cline

The missing chick was the runt of the bunch and had come to us looking a little wonky. Her butt was matted and looked like she had been pecking at it. The upper edge of her right wing was similarly bare. I checked the internet for what might be ailing her little bottom and learned about a potentially fatal chick condition called “pasty butt“, which is where their vent (what they use to poop, pee, and lay eggs) becomes clogged up. She didn’t have pasty butt, but the name stuck and we dubbed her “Pasty Cline”, a tribute to the great American country vocalist, back when country was Country.

Pasty Cline’s fuzz-less wing

Pasty’s matted booty

The second night I had her, I washed up her little rump, dried it with a towel, and applied some homemade herbal salve made with shea butter and yarrow from the garden. The next day, the little bit of down on her bottom seemed to enjoy the bath and fuss I showed because it fluffed itself up. Within a day or two, she was flaunting her cute little fluffy rumpus with all the other chicks. I was a happy and proud chick mama.

And now, Pasty Cline was nowhere to be found!

Missing Chicks

I ran back to the house and yelled to Jim that one of the chicks was missing. He came out with his headlamp and helped me search. The chick coop is placed in a larger dog kennel so it is completely enclosed on all four sides, as well as top and bottom. It is pretty sparse with just their mini coop, water supply, and some grasses at the edges of the fence. There aren’t a lot of places where a chick could go missing. In the fencing there are no holes other than a gap, a few inches high, in the ceiling that’s about 4 feet off the ground. Maybe a snake could have slithered through? Even then, there was no sign of a struggle, no blood or other indication. Just a missing chick.

I cried a little bit. It was a bit heartbreaking to lose a chick. I had only had her for about 5 days and she was my little chick. But, nothing to do other than to tuck the others into bed and call it a night. I visualized seeing her in the daytime the next day, roaming free and pecking about like a lost little dreamer on her tiny stick legs and the barely there fuzz of her rumpus shaking about proudly. Maybe she would show up next to me while I weeded the garden tomorrow …

One out of Six

Now, the next morning, we come out and check on our five remaining chicks. One is huddled by the fence alone. The door to the coop is open, their heat lamp shining like a hearth. I watch as Jim squats down and peers into their coop. “Aw babe, I’m sorry,” he says. My heart sinks. Pulling out one chick, he lays her on the top of the coop. Her neck is bent at an awkward angle and her legs stick straight out. As he pulls another one out, the living chick darts underneath the coop. The second chick looks stiff and straight as a board. He lays her next to her sister. The other three are missing. Vanished, just like their sister, Pasty Cline.

No sign of a struggle. No blood or down feathers. Nothing. No sign of what killed the two in front of us. Jim examined them and couldn’t find the source of death. It was a such a strange murder. Whatever it was, had eaten one chick the night before, and had come back the next night, made off with two, and killed these other two but left them behind.

“At least there’s still one alive,” I walked in to see the living one. It’s Peg-Leg! The other runt of the family. She came to us with a little limp. Her right elbow had a dark red scab and she was only putting the lightest amount of weight on the limb. I had washed her up too and applied the salve on the wound. She was the slowest of everyone! How did she survive? The others were bigger and faster than her! This day, though, I see that she is putting a lot of weight on the limb now. She is healing up fast. Peg-Leg, the survivor.

Death

And such is life. Death accompanies us moment to moment. One moment all this new life buzzes around me, and then the next minute, they’re lying stiffly as a board, life gone in one fell swoop. So quickly and mercilessly. I’ve never had a pet die on me. I didn’t grow up with any pets. In college, I adopted a little black kitten and named her Cinco. My parents took her one day to catsit and she ran away from home, never to be seen again. It was an easier transition to not know what happened and to hope that perhaps she was living a happy life elsewhere.

But to be certain they died is heavy. Life is fragile and fleeting, whether we’re vulnerable chicks or grown-ass adults. We never really know. Life is a moment by moment phenomenon. Our culture places us so heavily in the future, buying insurance and investments that protect against a harmful what-if possibility. But can we truly protect ourselves against Life Happening?

I’ve been having this conversation with people lately. My parents’ number one concern is how will I be okay in the future if I am not working with a company and contributing to a 401K, etc.? Where is the security in the way I am living my life? My question is whether there is ever any security in life or just the illusion of one?

Prior to this life, I was in grad school for business analytics in Hartford, Connecticut, the “Insurance Capital”. Our program was designed with partnership from the local companies for the ideal employee they were seeking. Needless to say much of our coursework included examples from the Insurance industry and many of our professors were executives within the Insurance industry. As I sat there in class, absorbing all this learning, it struck me, this concept of “insurance”. Insurance against what? Insurance against our fears for the future, really; even though in reality, life can throw you a curveball or hit you with a bad pitch.

In my project management class, we learned about “risk analysis” and I was blown away. A real-life example was given of a problem that the local aerospace company, United Technologies, actually had with one of their engines and the risk analysis they performed. The basic idea is this: people sit around a room and list all the possible risks involved. All of them; Every. Single. One. It can go up to 100+ “risks”. And then you tackle each one and ask what can be done to reduce or eliminate the risk, which is another game of assumption. Again, these are more ways to mitigate our fears of the future. I can understand how from a business perspective this can be valuable, but this perspective applied to life is dangerous and a silly game to play, and is why our culture that is steeped in corporate and a business lifestyle is causing a speedy decline in human health.

Life doesn’t work this way. Life is full of surprises. Life is based on a premise that the only time is Now. When we look elsewhere, the past or the future, we miss out on Life happening. We start to live in our heads and a virtual reality, and not with our hearts and inside the unfolding nature of life, living in the petals of the flower as it slowly blooms. We miss out on being flexible and listening to the vibrations of life to anticipate what’s coming next. This is my security. Being so present that I am attuned to what is actually happening in my Life, so I can be nimble and respond as needed.

Admittedly, I don’t know Death very well. A meditation on Mortality escapes me. I still am so disconnected from this idea of Death, even though it accompanies me daily. I aim to grow a deeper understanding of Mortality. Perhaps through meditation on life and living, I can understand better its opposite – death. And through a better understanding of death, my knowing of Life grows deeper. A mutual relationship.

Aftermath

Peg-Leg hanging out on Jim’s shoulder

I am grateful for Peg Leg, the little pirate. Later, I placed her in the garden to peck at the bugs and we both doted on her all day. Coming outside to check on her and hang out. Jim likes to put her on his shoulder. We brought her in at night and she hung out with us inside. I bet she misses her sisters. I don’t know what took them.

Yesterday, I reached out to Karen, the chicken breeder, who I bought these Orpington chicks from. She knows her fowl. Orpingtons are an English breed and Karen’s favorite kind of chicken. They have a “chill” personality, look cute, lay eggs well, and taste good (if that’s your kind of thing).

These six were the last of her Orpington chicks. She won’t have any new ones hatching until Tuesday, three days from today, but sent me pictures of other available birds.

There are keets available, which are baby guinea fowl. Guineas are a very popular bird for Karen. People love them in this area because they eat pesky bugs in the garden and are also great watchbirds. If a foreign animal, like a snake or more likely a turtle, strays onto the property, they will form a circle around it and sound an alarm. A silly picture to imagine!

She also had some older Orpington’s available, including full sized hens, but I wanted Peggy to have friends around her age and didn’t want to wait long. After all, animals have hearts and souls and need love and company too. Those that fit my selective criteria of being the same age as Peggy was a black chick of mixed breed and a white Coronation one. “Randoms,” as Karen called them so I suspect they are overlooked by other buyers for one reason or another. Perfect for us! A crew of misfits!

This morning, we will head down Route 71 southbound over to Muldoon, TX where the wildflowers grow rampant and the land is sprawling with the sky. Karen’s farm is amazing and filled to the brim with animals. Goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, swans, peacocks, hogs, horses, cattle, and dogs. Texas loves their animals. They love to raise them, to sell them, to eat them, they love them as entertainment, and to just keep them, admire them, and show them off to the neighbors. That’s one of the first things about this place I’m learning.

I love Texas.

 

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