I am walking down the path that leads to the chicken coop and the girls rush past me — running ahead, unplugging the electric fence — eager to greet the birds and check for eggs. The day is cold and dark and there is just one egg. A light blue egg, a shade slightly softer than Amabel’s coat. She wants to hand it to me but my hands are full with baby, compost bucket, camera, and letters to put in the mailbox. This is my recent condition: hands full. My two greatest mothering tools are my voice and my hands, but for the past two months my hands have been so occupied with our little baby man that I’ve had to rely on my voice with the girls and I’m feeling the strain. My voice isn’t tired; the girls are tired. Tired of me talking so much. Telling them what to do instead of guiding them with my hands. I long to put my arms around them, to do projects next to them — or to simply get a glass of water myself instead of asking them to help me again.
Jeffrey arrives on the scene. He takes the egg from Amabel and hands her a sheet of ice that he lifted off the top of the wheelbarrow. As I watch the girls examine the ice (we have no snow yet — but ice is a welcome sight), I am grateful that his hands are here to do the work that my hands long to do. I set the compost bucket down and somehow manage, with a baby wrapped up on my chest, under my down coat and thick scarf (“Mama, you don’t even look like you have a baby. You just look really plump!”) to take a photo of our daughters with their ice on the day after Christmas.
Our garden is a jungle of beautiful, edible goodness. Morning dew settles on flowering tomato plants. Spiders weave webs among ripening raspberries. Spiky, green cucumbers hide under sprawling vines, trailing beyond the straw mulch into the surrounding meadow. Peas hang amidst delicate tendrils, reaching for a holding place. Chamomile has taken over edges here and there — even sprouting and thriving in the chicken run. More calendula blooms each day, making flowers faster than I can pick for bouquets and salve.
Daisies thrive in front of our house and along the fence line. Onions do their thing. Garlic swells under the earth, the edges of its leaves tinged brown among dozens of volunteer borage plants. Bees swarm the fuzzy borage flowers.
Carrots grow — slow and steady — only the very tips of orange peeking out of the soil. Parsley is abundant in all stages — young and lush, mature and flowering. Marigolds smell slightly skunky as I kneel down among the vegetation to get a bug’s eye view. Kale keeps giving and giving. Celery loves its companion dill.
I soak in the abundance. I let it wash over me. This garden, this little place on earth, is so good to us. We give a little and we are rewarded one-hundred fold. It is overwhelmingly wonderful in July — wandering through and eating out of this jungle of a garden.
Spring is a windy beach, still clean from a half a year of ice and snow.
Spring is a handful of radishes fresh from the moist earth.
Spring is a half-grown chick — part bird, part dinosaur.
Spring is a baby with bare arms. And bare feet.
Spring is a morning in the garden.
Ellen woke up at 6:30 this morning — well before her usual waking hour — and crept downstairs to see the chicks. She stayed with them, and played with them, for over two hours (I am told, because I was sleeping in!). It was nearly 9:00 when I finally came down to the sound of two girls and six chicks happily chirping away.
Two years have passed since the first time we brought home baby chickens, and the girls want to be much more involved in their care this time. Amabel and Ellen are taking “the naming of the chicks” very seriously — thinking ahead into the future lives of their birds. Which baby names stuck last time? What will the birds look like and act like when they get older; how will their markings change and what personalities might they have? Who will be the biggest? Who will be the boss? Of course we talk about these things knowing how much we can’t predict . . . but I do think that the girls are considering the future of their chickens as they consider names, simply because they’ve watched a group of birds grow up once before and seen them through seasons of joy (the first egg!) and loss (unknown, and not so unknown, predators).
Mrs. P (short for Mrs. President) was a favorite bird from our first batch. She was the first to lay eggs and would proudly strut her way up to Harry and give him a good peck on the nose when he was getting too curious. Sadly, Mrs. P was mysteriously murdered at the tender age of six months. It was likely her fearlessness that brought her to her end — but we like to think that perhaps she protected the rest of the flock from harm in her last moments.
Who will be the “Mrs. P” of this group of ladies? (Or might one of them turn out to be a rooster? There is always the possibility that we’ll have a Mr. P!)
As of today, the chicks are called Fuzzy, Little Hawk and Big Hawk, Nickel, Little Jet, and Mashed Potato. The Australorp below is “Mashed Potato”. She currently resembles a tiny penguin, but the girls know from experience that she will grow up to be a very large solid, shiny black bird — and if she is anything like our full-grown Australorp, she will be shy but very sweet.
For now this bitty bird fits snugly in the palm of Ellen’s hand . . . reminding her (just a bit!) of a fluffy pile of Mashed Potato. A good name, don’t you think?