Kaspar’s best friend, FM, is the proud pint-sized owner of five pet chickens. FM’s moms are some of our best friends, too, and in fact our cross-family friendship was largely born over the subject of chickens (and other urban barnyard beasties), during a chance encounter at the library one afternoon, many months ago. A quick re-enactment:
Small talk—small talk—sussing for red flags and extreme political parenting agendas—small talk—green light:
H (FM’s mom): So, do you guys live nearby?
Me: We’re right up the road, yeah. You?
H: We’re about five minutes away.
Me: Let’s get together sometime— you know, so the boys can play. (We both look up at the boys as they dart between shelves, with FM’s other mama in hot pursuit).
H: Yeah! That’s what I was getting at *laughs*. Here, let me write down our numbers.
Me: I’ll write ours, too.
H: (Looks up while writing) We have chickens!
Me: (This doesn’t strike me as random. It strikes me as awesome.) No way! I’ve been telling Aaron I want a goat.
H: I’ve been reading about raising goats-- I have a great book I can lend you.
And the following Sunday, we all had brunch.
Neither of our families have gotten goats (yet), but we do like to hang out and watch the boys and chickens do their backyard-barnyard thing; Kaspar and FM are content to toddle around and make clucking sounds at the chickens while H and I supervise and drum up family field-trip ideas and plans for business ventures (an early concept involved selling goat milk… Big business in natural-parenting circles… But the plan we’re actually going with involves wall art, which you’ll soon see in the Alt-Mama store).
I fantasized, in my former city life, about backyards in general, and about gardens, wildness and boys playing in dirt. I’m not exactly what you’d call hardcore “outdoorsy”, per se, but I grew up in New Hampshire, and spent hours, as a kid, just hitting things with sticks (and, presumably, using my imagination) in the small woods behind my childhood home. I do value outdoor spaces and unstructured time as two of the greatest gifts we can bestow upon our children. Neither of those priceless commodities is readily available in New York, and I only realized upon moving there how much fresh air and easy outdoor access really mattered to me. But, of course, top-tier cultural-things access also matters to me—and that is one thing NYC offers to a degree that no other city can match.
Even so, once I became pregnant, I felt strongly that I want my child(ren) to grow up discovering our inherent human connection to dirt, plants, and—yes—chickens, in some kind of… unstructured way.
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I wanted my son to also feel so at home in his personhood from the very beginning.
And so we moved to a place where people keep chickens (H and her wife also picked up and moved, while pregnant with FM, from San Francisco. We are a motley crew of metropolitan expatriates). H is a natural, a total boss-hog with the birds. I’ll admit that right now I run from them, when they approach me—though chickens are far smaller than turkeys, for sure. But I will get over that. You just watch me.
As for Kaspar, who’s looking less like a baby these days, and more like a little boy: he doesn’t run from the chickens at all. He laughs when they shake the hot-day dust from their wings, and touches them when they come near.
And I smile, thinking, “Yes, there it is exactly.”
I'll end with one of my favorite poems (a la Gary Snyder):
He crawls to the edge of the foaming creek
He backs up the slab ledge
He puts a finger in the water
He turns to a trapped pool
Puts both hands in the water
Puts one foot in the pool
Drops pebbles in the pool
He slaps the water surface with both hands
He cries out, rises up and stands
Facing toward the torrent and the mountain
Raises up both hands and shouts three times!
VI 69, Kai at Sawmill Lake
--Gary Snyder “Meeting the Mountains” from Regarding Wave, 1970.
PS. Sending very special love and congratulations to FM and family today, as they welcome their brand new baby girl!