Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Menopausal Chickens

I love living out here in the country. I seldom leave my own property. Mostly because there’s such a delicious variety of things I can do right here at home. I can take a mile and a half walk by going to the end of our acreage then turning on a dirt road that leads nowhere except for a long-deserted house. We have no neighbors on that side of the place and no cars ever drive down the road. On that walk I will never, ever, see another human. I could walk stark naked if I wanted. I’ve been tempted to try this just for the hell of it but figure the chiggers and ticks would be really bad, not to mention sunburn.

If I walked two miles in the opposite direction (wearing clothes for this walk) I pass Billy Cobb’s house where he may be sitting on the porch and we can catch up on town news. Billy was older than God twenty years ago when we bought our place. He’s never lived anywhere but this part of Wood County. He knows all the local snakes as well as squirrels and their habits. He knows who owned which piece of land going several generations back and what happened to them.

A little farther and I can stop at the pasture with cows and then across the street some horses. The cows always have tags on their ears with numbers. I call them by name as I greet them. “Hey, 279, how are you doing today? Hello 283, what’s new?”

When I turn onto another county road I will pass more cows. These are older and larger and don’t have numbers on them. These must be valued members of the family with real names like “Bossy” or perhaps they are too old to have commercial value and don’t need tags. Then I come to a couple of horses at the old gray abandoned house that’s falling down. This is where I usually turn around and head back home after petting the horses a bit. The turning around house is also my “rest stop”. It’s where I can stop to pee if I need to. It’s so far off the beaten path I’m never afraid a car will come by and see me but there’s a large bush if I need one to hide behind.

This road has been the most extraordinary example of what passes for progress around here. It used to be paved with asphalt but had cracks and potholes that made walking and driving difficult. So the county sent in bulldozers to rip up the asphalt and carry it off. That was two years ago and we’ve finally realized they don’t intend to resurface the road. The dirt road is actually smoother than when it was asphalt and potholes.

Sometimes Beaven will insist we walk up the road just a little farther to see the donkey. We used to take him an apple but he started getting bossy about it so we cut him off. Our dogs always started an argument with him and usually lost. Donkeys hate dogs. A lot of the farmers out here keep donkeys in with their cows to protect their herds from coyotes.

The dogs love to go on walks with us. They visit the cows and sniff everything as though there was some marvelous thing only they could detect, some dimension beyond mere smell. If there is anything dead in the road Girlfriend will insist on lying on her back and rubbing herself into the carcass. Her favorite is dead skunks and the older, the better. She will roll around on the carcass every single time she passes it until it has dissolved into nothingness and still she will return to the same spot for days afterwards. Friday hikes his leg and pees on every blade of grass he passes and we marvel at his bladder size. Annie likes to bark at the cows and pretend she’s hot stuff. Girlfriend will go off to God Knows Where and we’ll lose sight of her for a while but she always shows back up, usually wet. The dogs know every pond along the route.

The rain this year has really been good for us. The farmers have had three cuttings of hay so far and it looks like they might even get four. Last year at this time, Billy told us some of them were selling off their cows because they couldn’t feed them. But things are looking better this year. Now we see signs posted on gates offering hay for sale. Everybody has plenty this year.

I have started buying my eggs from a farm about four miles from our house. I went to get some eggs last week and the egg lady told me her hens got too old and quit laying. She has replaced them with new hens but those are still too young. I’ll have to wait a month or so for eggs from these hens. All I could think of was, "Chickens go through menopause? Who knew?” I was blown away by the idea. Of course they do. It only makes sense. The egg lady went on to tell me that right after they quit laying a woman came by asking if she had any chickens for sale. She wanted them to control her grasshopper problem. So she bought the menopausal chickens and took them home to spend the rest of their lives eating juicy grasshoppers.

I like that idea. It reminds me of when they send old racehorses past their prime to the stud farms to spend their time eating, making new racehorses and generally goofing off.

Maybe I have already reached this level of life. Maybe this is where old accountants and engineers go when they have passed their prime. Here I can walk where I want and write whenever I please. Beaven has a huge barn to house his toys and all the time in the world to play with them. Not a bad pasture to get put into. Our version of All the Grasshoppers You Can Eat.

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