It will be a year ago this next month that my chicken, Matilda magically appeared in my life.
It was late night, while I was walking the park, when this funny little red head popped out from behind a tall pine tree and called to me as if she had been waiting for me and only me.
It did seem like fate that evening… the way she followed me down the road, sure… now that she had made herself known to me, that I must realize immediately that we were kindred spirits. And I must admit, no matter how I pretended to protest to my friends walking with me that evening, how we already had too many pets how I didn’t need a chicken in my heart, I already considered her mine.
And so… when I said begrudgingly, “Come along, Matilda” she seemed to smile at me and say, “See? You did know my name! I knew you were my bosom friend.”
And now, I have Frida. She, like Matilda, was also left abandoned late night at the park and as I saw her dark red shape huddled down by a tall oak, I realized that unlike my Matilda, she was just a baby… unsure of herself and the world…. and that she had resigned herself to her fate: the dark of the night and the idea that she may not survive the moment.
Once again, I was with a friend who even said to me, “You are not going to bring that chicken home.” But I could not leave her to fend for herself, and as I stepped up quietly on her, making soothing whispers, my hands gently reaching down to enclose her, she cried small coos that reminded me of the sad sound of the mourning doves that some times nested in my tree outside my bedroom window… as if she longed to go home… where ever that had been… and couldn’t understand how the people she believed had loved her… had left her there… all alone.
“Don’t cry, Frida,” I said quietly and then I held her tightly to my chest and watched as she laid her head in the crook of my arm, her bright yellow legs stretched out like spindly twigs beneath her, the only part of her body which betrayed her fear at being handled by a stranger.
Shocked from her experience, it took her nearly a month to come close to us and almost two before she would eat from our hands yet now, she sits bravely each day, on top of the small table on the porch, eating grain from a tin, and acting as if she is queen of the yard.
And then there was Rupert.
Unfettered by feathers and claws, a fat, hairy little hoofed black and white pig, who was brought to us in a cat carrier, dropped at our house by someone who believed that a pig was “way too much work.” His tiny little tail the only thing we could see swishing through the holes in the side of the cage as he hid his face from us, unwilling to come out of the carrier. My son and I understood his fear and so… we quietly popped the top of the cage, lifted the lid, and watched the wee small man climb over the edge and head to the mound of chicken feed on the dirt, while our pet squirrel, Jax, now five years past being “Star of the Yard,” watched in horror from the roof top as if to say, “Two chickens and now a pig? Are you out of your mind? Isn’t a squirrel enough for you?”
Rupert, entitled from day one, threw his weight around daily. He destroyed gnomes, stepped on top of our German Shepherd, Emma, as though she didn’t even exist, and pushed his way closer to me and what he believed was my endless handful of “manna.”
And really… I can understand why people choose not to have critters when I am surrounded by so many needy animals.
They are noisy and messy.
They must be fed and cleaned on schedule.
And of course, like any pet, you take the risk of falling in love, becoming attached, and losing them, heartbroken, to a hundred different maladies.
But really… is this any different from anyone or anything we love in life?
When I picked up Matilda that night in the park, brought home Frida, gave Jax her first peanut, accepted Rupert into the yard, I had no idea the gift that I would be given in return.
The stories I am able to tell, the people that share in the joy of my barnyard world, and the community that has been delivered to my front yard gate due to this motley crew of critters.
Every day, when I sit and write, I hear out my office window a steady stream of foot traffic coming to my yard to see my pets:
I know that Kay’s sister is about to retire from teaching, is an author like me, and that Kay loves to keep turtles.
I know the toddlers, Faye and Mia, believe my yard to be magical and almost always wear their princess gowns when coming to visit.
I know that Bruce and Bridget, the widowers, met in French class, wed in their 70’s (after long successful marriages to other people) and found solace and joy and love in each other.
I’ve learned that Richard works late but still rushes down the street in his work suit so that he can bring his boys to see Rupert before my pig goes to bed. And I know that his son Max’s autism finds peace in the quiet petting of my animals.
And even as I write this, I stop to meet Eric and Bekah, a young married couple who live over in the Ranchos and had heard about our yard, word of mouth, questing out on their bikes across the busy street, to find this “mythical” farm yard and were actually just leaving when a young boy named Logan, not more than four, ran up to my fence with his brother, mother, and father, following close behind, to let me know they had just gone to the pet store to buy mice for their snake, but had stopped by to check on my pig. Logan racing back as they left, to give me a flower saying, “You can put it on your computer so when you write, you think of me.”
It would be a fault that I could not bear to carry, if I did not acknowledge how my “cup runneth over” by what some would consider a burden, a nuisance, a hindrance.
The joy I find in these shared moments of togetherness are worth the work and the risk.
How fortunate am I to have a life filled with children and neighbors who find a moment of connection and happiness on a random corner of Anywhere, U.S.A.
There is a comfort in knowing that I will watch these children grow over time, as they first walk past my house on their way to elementary school and then soon… maybe even becoming my own students when they are teens, and one day… when I will be gone as we all soon will… may still stop at my front yard gate with their own children, point to a particular corner of the yard and say, “When I was little this garden was a magical place.” And though I will not be there to stand witness to the moment, I find solace in knowing that I will become a thread in the stories they tell.