The Facts of Life. And Chickens.

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We got chickens this spring, and I built them a coop out of wood scavenged from construction sites, and star-headed screws that really do work better than the phillips head ones, just like the guy at the lumber store said. They worked so well, I was like, “Becca, you’re really good at screwing.” But I guess it really depends on the screw.

Oh, that was bad.

Anyways, the thing is, chickens sort of make me think of sex. Not because I think they are sexy. Don’t worry. It’s some childhood association, formed by asking about where chicken eggs came from right around when I started thinking about babies getting made, or maybe from looking at old men’s crotches at hot springs and then looking at turkey gobbles. I don’t know.

But when I was finishing the chicken run, which is a nice word for chicken cage, I got thinking about how anything we do to thwart nature is almost always really ugly, or has some nasty side effect. Like to keep raccoons from eating chickens, we put those happy, strutting birds in mucky cages. Or to keep makin’ babies from making babies, we ingest enough estrogen to emasculate frogs and stick plastic crosses up our uteruses.

See how short a time it takes to get from chicken to sex? That’s all I have to say about that.

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Bonus

Being a teacher means you get Valentine’s Day three times a year. You get Valentine’s Day like everyone else. Then you also get The Last Day Before Christmas Break and The Last Day of School. Like Valentine’s Day, these days mean that sometimes people give you chocolate and flowers and jewelry. Also, lots and lots of cards.

These gifts aren’t the point of teaching of course; they are just little bonuses, sort of like they give CEO’s.

A friend in college tried to convince me to the theory that the reason that poets and teachers don’t make very much money was that their jobs are intrinsically awesome, and that part of why high paying jobs are high paying is to bribe people into doing them even though they are boring or stressful or entail huge amounts of responsibility.  I didn’t buy his theory then, and I still don’t.

I see three basic flaws: First of all, teaching may be great, but minimum wage jobs are rarely awesome, and are usually boring and stressful. Second of all, although I was an English Major destined for modest awesomeness, he was an engineer, hurtling towards a high paying job himself, if he so chose, and yet he really seemed to find engineering awesome. Third, I may be biased, but teaching and writing literature seem like big responsibilities to me.

So it is a flawed theory. But I was thinking about it this week, when I got showered in homemade granola, hot pink geraniums, chocolate-filled figs, and cards that said things like “thank you for helping become a betor ritor.” See, I love teaching and provided I had a sugar daddy/trust fund/pile o’ gold I might do it even if I wasn’t paid. However, teacher appreciation presents really do make a teacher feel appreciated.

I started thinking about those CEOs and their gazillion dollar bonuses, and wondering if anyone at their work had ever given them a hand drawn card with hot air balloons and an igloo on it. I imagined if things were switched around a little and my students’ families passed around a hat and gave me an envelope with with $43,511,534* inside, while meanwhile all the people touched by the CEOs’ work sent them hand-beaded necklaces and inventively spelled messages.

I’ve never been given millions of dollars, so I can only imagine how it feels, but I wonder if it makes a person feel as appreciated as I felt last week. I have a hunch that it would make me feel a little awkward. Then again, maybe that is just one of the things they are paying you to endure.

* The biggest executive bonus of the 2000’s, according to CNBC. This one went to Steve Jobs.

Chicken, Oh Chicken

“Your life would disgust a vegan,” Nate told me recently.

I think I’d just said, “Shoot, I forgot my chicken fat.”

This post might disgust vegans, too, because I’m going to tell you about that chicken fat, and the chicken it came from, and how I killed it. Ready, predators?

 This chicken was the first vertebrate I ever killed, although I have tried to kill rats, who ate the peanut butter off my traps, and fish, who ignored me. Also, cleaning the barn one time, I destroyed a rats nest, and had to watch the naked pink babies die slowly in the sunlight. That’s killing the way we do most of our killing these days — callously, with lots of rhetoric about what is necessary and no blood on our hands.
So I wasn’t exactly innocent before I killed the chicken, but that chicken was the first animal whose head I ever chopped off. She was a big hen, part of a batch of meat birds my parents raised and killed last fall. I caught her and held her. She was light and warm and smooth. I remember her being calm. I put a loop of baling twine around her neck, and hooked it over a nail in the side of the chopping stump. I held her feet with my other hand, her neck stretched and still. One clean chop with the hatchet did it, but life doesn’t stop with death, and chickens show that. She flapped and bled and flapped and bled.

Killing her didn’t feel wrong and it was not hard to do. Much easier on the viscera than gutting, which makes my insides lurch around, maybe in sympathy. In between I dipped her in a pot of boiling water and ran her over the plucker, where rubber toggles beat the feathers off her in an over-enthusiastic massage.

Inside her we found and egg and a dozen yellow moons, each incrementally smaller. Yolks with no shell.

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That hen fed me for months. First I roasted her for a dinner party. Then Nate snacked on her skin in the messy late-night kitchen. I made pot pie with the scraps, and stock with the bones and fat. There was so much fat, I made two batches of broth. The first had an inch-thick layer of fat on the surface; the second was milky with bones. I froze the broth and ate it for many meals. The egg drop soup it made could heal, I swear. When the broth drained out of the jar, there was still the fat, which kept for several weeks, while I used it like lard. I am eating the last of it this week, in a cabbage beef hash. Everything about that chicken was delicious.

My parents are gearing up to teach a chicken butchering class now, and I am raising my own batch of urban hens. My hens are for eggs, officially, but Squinchy is not the only one who watches them while thinking about dinner. If the time came, I know I could kill another chicken, and I would know what to do with it afterwards.