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Friday, January 14, 2011

CHICKS- ANOTHER CHAPTER FROM "THE CHICKEN WHISPERER"


 “Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it's zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”
                                                                …from the movie A Christmas Story

CHICKS
M
y squirrel infested house also comes with five acres of grass, a kid’s dream, an adult’s nightmare.  When a kid has a big yard it is like having a Ferrari—all your friends think you’re cool. When an adult has a big yard (to mow) it’s like walking around Wal-Mart with your fly open—all your friends think you’re an idiot. 

     Growing up in the country, my yard not only had a lot of grass but also an interesting collection of wooden sheds and farm animals. It became the center of neighborhood child activity in spite of my mother’s insistence that we were killing her mutt grass (no distinct bloodline but considered precious) by walking on it.

     My yard had one problem:  The clover attracted bees.  Walking barefoot across my yard in the summer was like using a wasp nest for a teddy bear:  you were asking for it.  Luckily the bees were replaced at dusk with a sky of lightning bugs suspended above a carpet of frogs and crickets.  With flashes and chirping, came hours of safe barefoot running. But all good things must end.

     A wire one June night brought an abrupt end to our myth of safe nighttime running and introduced us to our immortality by sending Tate Lancaster to the emergency room minus one nipple.  I’ve always heard death gets you one piece at a time.

     We had a clothes’ line in my back yard my Dad had rigged so a circus elephant could walk across it.   He accomplished this by setting four poles in concrete and reinforcing them with a couple of taunt guide wires pulled as tight as banjo strings.  To make a long story short, I knew to duck but Tate tried to play a little music.  It took a nice big piece of skin off, including a teat.

     Later that night, chest wrapped in bandages, he came back looking for his shoe.  After a short search, we determined a dog must have taken it.   Two months later I found it.  It was on top of my house.   If we would have had it on video, we would all be rich, and Tate could have afforded plastic surgery.

     Chase anybody and you assume certain risk.  But unlike cartoons, the wounds are real.  Unlike cartoons, nobody laughs.   The world is full of wounded people.

    Some say pets are good therapy for wounded people.  I think anybody who has a pet, should be paid hourly by the government.   Because of my farm experience, I know that raising animals requires constant attention to detail: watering, feeding, cleaning etc.  Whereas most kids would love so many pets, I just saw animals as chores.  I preferred the chickens and the cows simply because they seemed to give me more bang for my buck- eggs and chicken tenders, milk and steak.  In spite of my tendency to eat chickens, they taught me a lot about compassion and heartbreak.

       I was excited when I got twenty-five chicks for a 4-H project because I needed the money from egg sales. I had heard if you fed chickens cornbread laced with hot sauce they would shoot a dozen eggs a day out of their butt.  At that rate of egg production I was thinking I could save enough money for a red Corvette before I turned sixteen.

      My hot rod project started with me keeping twenty-five of the furry little things warm in an incubator and feeding them everyday.   Only one would let me poke my finger through the screen and pet it.  All the others ran for their life because they could smell Kentucky Fried Chicken on my hands.

      My friendship with my lone chick grew quickly and I began to believe my calling in life might be to become a chicken whisperer.   For several days my yellow friend was in the exact same spot every afternoon waiting for an afternoon rub.  Eventually I started noticing it was the runt and barely growing at all.  Two days later I rubbed him a little harder and he fell to pieces- literally.  He was dry rotted.  The reason he was always standing still is because he was dead, impaled on a piece of wire.

     This chick became an omen for the next twenty years of my life:  I’d love something and watch it fall apart.   Me trying to figure out love on my own was like trying to train a chicken:  it didn’t work.

     It was sad that I fell in love with a dead chicken.  I think people love a lot of dead things.  We migrate toward the smaller challenge.  Love a car- simple, inanimate, temporary, unresponsive; or love a person- complicated, living, eternal, emotional.  We like the smaller challenge because it appears safe and is easy to get our hands on.  We assume certain risk when we love the living, but at least we’re not petting a dead chicken.

     So you can only imagine how excited I was when I found this book in my attic and remembered its author, the Chicken Whisperer, left a legacy of love and instructions on how to not only to avoid petting dead chickens but to how to keep them alive.  He understood the great challenge of loving people but at them same time giving them freedom to not respond.  His love was strong but tender, persevering but not forceful, and passionate  but unbelievably patient. His love was revolutionary and results are legendary.  The Chicken Whisperer believed love was worth the risks.  He never played it safe.  Some would say the way he lived got him killed.  I say the way he loved gave a lot of people a chance to live.

                                                                               C.S. Lewis

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