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Another Day in the Country

Civilization 101

© Another Day in the Country

“One of my favorite unexpected perks in keeping chickens is the daily lessons they offer.”

So says the author of yet another chicken book I’m reading, “Keeping Chickens,” by Ashley English. This particular book, full of lovely color photographs, is one of the most helpful books I’ve found.

At home in Kansas I have my “chicken Bible” that I go to for advice; but in California I needed to search the local library for help.

Not that I don’t know about chickens after raising them for almost 20 years. I wanted to enhance my grandson’s first experience raising chickens of his own.

Our experimental integration of different ages of chicks continues. It’s a little like watching over the playground for kindergarteners who are learning how to play together.

We introduced the chicks to each other in our newly claimed chicken garden, California style. I don’t know that anyone in Kansas would turn over their prized entryway garden to chicks, but we were desperate for an enclosed area.

I told our nearest neighbors that we’d gotten chicks so that they could keep a careful eye on their dog. They reminded me of all the natural predators that inhabit rural Napa Valley life.

“Did you know there are foxes living in our backyard?” Marsha said. “My grandkids love to watch them.”

She went on about raccoons, opossums, skunks, and even a black bear sighted last summer, along with inevitable mountain lion stories.

Yes, I knew we would face obstacles in this wooded area, but I would take that calculated risk again in a minute just to see the excited glee on my grandson’s face as he anticipated getting chicks. Now to see how protective and curious he is about these little creatures just thrills my grandmotherly heart.

I know that once these chicks are past their cute phase, things may get a bit tedious; but I’m hoping that the bonding that is occurring now will carry him through to the day those hens lay their first eggs.

By then, Amelia, Rhett, Betsy, Peckerface, Gracie, and the audacious Penny hopefully will be part of the family.

Frankly, I’d do about anything to entice a child away from the endlessly mind-boggling electronic world for half an hour of the natural world.

By observation, you’ll learn that chickens, “don’t worry about whether they spent too much time in that dust bath, or if they squawked too loudly about that egg,” Ashley English says. “They rise with the sun and get to the business of living with a vivaciousness, curiosity, and deliberation we could all learn from.”

While we are having chicken summer school, I realize that actual school will be starting in just a couple of weeks for kids in Marion County. I’m already ordering supplies for art classes I teach at Centre, anticipating the fun of teaching this year’s crop of third-graders about how to use water colors and how to bend a line to make it into a drawing.

All of these learning processes — whether they are art, reading, or activities on the playground —are civilizing elements for our society.

I’ve often told Candice, who’s taught the lower grades for years at Centre Elementary, how I admired her ability to teach proper behavior for a classroom to children under her care. School starts, and within a few weeks she will have those third graders wrangled in from summer vacation and orderly, on the road toward civilized behavior so they can then begin to learn other skills.

That’s what we’re attempting to encourage in our chick population at the moment.

“Good luck,” I can hear you old-timers exclaiming, with a skeptical look in your eye.

Well, chicks use that “eye” look, too, you know. When our tiny warrior met the older kids in the flock for the very first time, she was pretty cocky. When she tried it again, Rhett pecked back and then fixed her with a stare that my own kids coined as “the grocery store look.”

You know that look mothers give that says “You’d better behave.” Rhett the Rhode Island stared down at Penny the Astrolop, who was stretched up to her tallest, looking back. After what seemed like a very long time, they broke eye contact and went their separate ways. The message was loud and clear, “You’d better behave.”

Meanwhile the other chicks made themselves busy elsewhere, avoiding the confrontation. Each to his own, I guess, on another day in the country.

Last modified Aug. 2, 2017

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