Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Autumn Hen

Trees surprise you. Across the street two maples, which I must have noticed in the three years I have lived here, yet perhaps ignored, suddenly glow. Golden, misted amber leaves with a hint of harvest grape green stand quietly behind my neighbors fence. So vibrant on this day of gray. Trees change, fields dull to muted shades, summer blossoms wilt and even my indoor furry friends get a bit furrier. Autumn arrives in medias res, to begin in the middle, in the middle of change.

Yet what about the chicken? What changes do they rely on to understand the coming cold, what harbingers of this season do they have? For example, this fine photo of our very own Polish Hen, whom I refer to as the Wandering Pole, knows nothing of winter to come. Sprouted this spring, her fellow layers and sister, Queen Louise the 15th, also know nothing of days kept indoors, hours of white on windows and the wind that doesn't stop for the domesticated. Chickens continue to lay, cluck and roll in now colder dirt, doing their chicken duties and doing them well.

We have six chickens and this past weekend while raking leaves and then putting them in their coop, the chickens acted grateful. They continued on with their chickening without any fear of cold winds from the north. We who have cultivated this animal for the past 10,000 years all for our own needs have failed to inform them or give them something to note the change in seasons. Perhaps knitting chicken sweaters is about as publicly insane as walking your cat in a sweater while on a leash. Sure we give chickens heat lamps as their own private sun during cold nights, but really, the poor bird is quite literally left in the dark.

Recently, I watched a documentary on the history of the chicken, which really could have been called "the stupid things humans do to forget they are animals". One such chicken lover in Maine gave her frozen hen left for dead mouth to well, beak resuscitation and brought her favored fowl back to it's chicken life. Another woman in Miami bathed her hen daily and believed her chicken was her soul mate, dare I say fowl mate. Regardless of the absurdity and extreme in chicken ownership, I do think about these little beings despite their bead of a brain need a bit more credit.

For regardless of an occasional molt, chickens are incredibly trustworthy and reliable creatures. Perhaps even loyal to their duties in producing eggs. Roosters have long been more than useful in time management and what could be more bucolic than a pasture with a few hens scratching in the background. From the practical to the artful, hens surely have their place. This place is usually side lined or in the back drop unless you have lived your life as Gonzo from the Muppets who was not shy or bashful for his love of chickens.

And so, it is the middle of the week and at the end of autumn that I want to pay homage to the spirited bird, which lives without expecting to fly. The underdog without even practicing a song. Chickens, you are the falcon of humble acceptance. Enjoy the poem.

Autumn Hen

September crowns each crest of larch with gold,

geese mold the sky and maple, with their hands

wave to the sun, waning the horizon red.

And the hen cares not for falling leaves.

Their bodies preen slow knitted winter

warmth as feather sweater. While your cider

skin, no longer bare, demands covering.

You try to hold the passing of your longing,

try to keep August as your private yolk

to feed off February fates. But you, more chicken

than god, season your days in dirt and grass.

You learn to quiet yourself by raking leaves,

your fallen heart, you cannot keep green.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October Cosmos

I've started a new habit which involves Carl Sagan. After countless searches for small tidbits of daily aspirations, I found videos mostly from the early 80's of Carl Sagan. Sure, we usually associate this parka and turtleneck wearing scientist with earnest and larger ideas like the cosmos. But I started to dig a bit deeper into his lesser known clips on whale communication for example. I started listening more to his well enunciated speech and found moments of unabashed poetry. I even started to find myself mimicking his words in my head. But really, it's his enthusiasm for the unknown which struck me as something worth noting, something worthy. Something fresh in a world of handing out digitized facts.

But there will always be facts. The facts are, October is here. Here in Missoula, we have a few trees changing, enough for a midwesterner to feel a sense of the familiar. I often joke that I wonder where in the world is it autumn all year long? For the colors, the paling sun, the occasional warmth that feels so welcoming and really a gift before all the coming gray. We've had one of the nicest Octobers with a lot of warm days, so many that my cosmos (pictured first) stayed open and vibrant up until two days ago. Up until two days ago, we hadn't had a frost. The other photo shows how green our late summer into fall remained with all the August rain. And what does autumn have to do with Carl Sagan?

Carl Sagan seemed to have a desire for more questions, didn't quit with just facts. It's like his mind was an autumning of questions. A limbo of transition and wonderment. So often I flip through information like I am sure so many of us do only to land in a sea of facts on weight loss, facts on happiness, facts on better communication, facts on deals, facts on more facts. So much information to drown in instead of swim or even just a casual float with a view of stars. The internet can really drag someone down with web-entangled searches only to have spent an hour lost to the universe, lost to the god of wasted mental space.

But I must say, I am grateful for all the clips of Carl on the web. Watching Carl clips feels like reading a good poem. Sure, we know stars and the word galaxy or whale, but with Carl at the helm, it's usually a safe and surreal sail. So I want to share with you a great clip of Carl doing a whale song. The vulnerability seems present, but purposeful. I love it. Just Carl against the wind and the mast with his song of whales. It's like some ancient bard coming up from some sea to give us a hint of what is going on below. And maybe that's just it. Carl gives us a look into something we have known since birth, the moon, stars, seasons and the once report each of us gave on Pluto in front of our first grade class. We cut out planets and paper rings of Saturn, but it was during a time when we were open to wonderment. With so many facts, we can lose our wonderment, our openness, our body as atrium to what it beyond our computer screen. Enjoy the clip. Enjoy the poem.


I stopped believing in birds for awhile.

A nun said my heart was broken, before

I even started dating. A parrot

in an unlocked cage waits to start singing.

To mimic off-key is song, but not song

of yourself. Before the cross of Romans,

men followed the flight of swallows to build

temples as nests for their gods. But I can’t

live in city gardens, more poppy

along train tracks in Poland. I’ve learned

to field myself in countries, to rejoice

the potato is to see the pigeon

as dove. Divorce yourself from the body

as burden. You’re an atrium of love.