Seattlelandia: Episode One, “Ladies on the Loose”

Sometimes life is too much like Portlandia.

The scene begins with a morning trip to the neighborhood artisan bakery for a scone for her and a ham and cheese (excuse me, ham and gruyere) croissant for him. On the way, he throws the chickens a yogurt tub of chicken food and lets them out to run freely in the yard.

Only much later, as she takes a break from working on her tortured masterpiece of fiction and eats her artisan bread/organic butter/homecanned tomato/sustainably-caught-sardine lunch concoction does she notice that the back gate is open. Dunh dunh dunh…. She rushes down into the yard, the dog at her heels. Ruba, Diamond, and Licorice Chick are gone! Only Puff remains, brocking a lonely brock in the empty dirt.

Soon they are both searching the block for the lost ladies. “Excuse me, have you seen any chickens?” they ask again and again.

“I know how to hold a chicken rully rully good,” says a proud child on a pedalless bike (which, like all modern and trend-setting children she rides instead of a trike so that she will never have to use training wheels).

“We had two hundred chickens when I was a kid,” says another neighbor, who now has three small free-ranging dogs. “If I find yours I’ll chuck ’em over the fence.”

Next thing, she’s putting up LOST CHICKEN signs and he’s wandering the alleyways. Then she has to abandon the search to go to a bodywork appointment, which she has strategically timed so that her drives sandwich rush hour (this is Seattlelandia, after all). When she gets out, walking regally and in pristine balance through the golden Wallingford air, a text: They’ve been found! Someone read a sign! Someone called! Diamond resisted capture, but he prevailed, and the ladies are home!

She drives home listening to an obscure band sing about saber-toothed tigers and drinking water (as instructed) from a reusable glass juice jar. There is traffic on the University Bridge. Two cops have pulled some people of color over on her street. She feels incensed and drives on by, then uses her turn signal on her driveway, just in case the cops care. The chickens pace in their run. He cooks dinner. She walks the dog. Happy violins play and the sun sets behind the construction site.

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.

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.

Bubba, Squoosh, and Ploppy

It has come to my attention that my siblings are worried about my future children’s names.  I have, they say, a bad track record, the principal things I have named being Squinchy and Kitty-Koo, the cat I named when I was five.  They leave out of this reckoning Margaret, Harriet, Abigail, Lonely Annie Anaconda the Araucana, and the rest of the chickens I have named, Artemis and Aphrodite the terrible cats (by the way, DO NOT NAME CATS AFTER GODDESSES.  They get airs.  Kitty Koo was a great cat.) as well as Snowdrop the black rabbit I named after a white lamb from a movie.  Maybe that one doesn’t help my case — but it did have a white spot on its forehead.  Also, they forget I have named a number of imaginary people, and many of them have perfectly fine names like Rosie and Mari, and the ones whose names are things like Bean, well, their names fit them.  Like Squinchy fits the Squinch.

However, my brother believes I am going to have a baby and say, “I know there is a totally magnificent name for this child, but I just can’t think of it.” And meanwhile, the poor kid will get called Bubba.  He’ll probably be some nerdy oboe-playing blond boy named Bubba.  And his siblings, says Aidan, will go by Squoosh and Ploppy.  Seriously, Bud.  Although, now that I think of it, that’s some nice onomatopoetic stuff.  If I want to name them after their diapers that is.

Now, I think things have a way of naming themselves, so I am making no promises, but I do believe I can do better than Ploppy.