This is it. I turn fifty this year. I have no idea how it happened. In my mind, I don’t feel fifty at all. My body is another story, but I won’t go there because it’s not pretty….not pretty at all.
Anyway, I’ve always been a very driven person. I wanted the big important high status job, I wanted lots of letters after my name and I wanted status. Period. In my career, I’ve always left jobs to take a job that would advance me further. I knew that there wasn’t anything that could stop me and I worked hard and wanted MORE, MORE, MORE. To put it simply…I’ve always been an overachiever. In a big over achieving way.
Lately though, as I approach this big milestone birthday, I’ve found myself changing. Suddenly, I don’t care to achieve any more. I’m quite happy with what I have. In fact, sometimes, I think I’d be happier with a little less in my life. Family suddenly seems terribly important to me, as does our home and the things we do in our “off” time which I guard rabidly. The world around me seems to be much more important too. Not the people, generally, but I’m worried about the planet. We’ve got a darn good gig here and I feel like we’re screwing it up big time. Suddenly, the idea of chemically laced food, medications with strong, damaging side effects, pollution in the air and water, and the way we treat the animals of the planet all seem very, VERY wrong to me.
I’ve stopped caring what other people think. I’ve also cut people out of my life who were making it more complicated and dramatic. It sounds harsh, but I don’t want that anymore. It used to be that a little drama and adrenaline drove my day. Now, I walk away from it. I no longer feel compelled to get involved in every argument I’m invited to. My icy exterior that I’ve been told can be “intimidating” is melting a bit, although I still speak my mind and feel entitled to do so. I no longer will keep my mouth shut to preserve what others think of me. This is who I am. At almost 50.
I’m suddenly interested in developing talents that I’ve always had, like art and writing. Before these changes in me started to appear, I never did those things because I thought “What am I going to do with it when I’m done?” I don’t care what I do with it now. It makes me happy. Maybe that’s the whole thing right there…I’ve figured out how to be happy without having an unnatural front to it and I just don’t care what people think because I’m not here to make them happy. This is my life…not theirs.
So, WHY am I writing all this drivel when it has nothing to do with chickens? Isn’t this a chicken blog? Well, yes…and actually, my twelve little chicken dumplings (which is WAY different from chicken and dumplings…which by the way are delicious) have taught me some things. They’re little teachers in chicken feathers…and they don’t give homework, which is good, but they do teach important life lessons that honestly, for the first time in my life, I’ve been open enough to accept. None of it is rocket science…which chickens have been rumored to be able to do, but it’s never been witnessed.
Since I brought the chicks home, I’ve felt this strong urge to care for them. Not because they can give me anything, but because they are helpless and have no choices. My husband suggested it was empty nest syndrome, but I still have two children at home, granted one is 21 and the other is 11, and maybe he’s right, but I think there is something more to it. It’s the simplicity of it. The daily feeding and care and doing what’s naturally best for them. It’s not giving them chemicals and things they don’t need, but furnishing natural things for them and watching them grow into beautiful creatures whose feathers are glossy and naturally beautiful. It’s watching them grow from infancy or chickhood to maturity. It’s teaching them to trust me and showing them that not everything in the world is meant to be feared and I will keep them safe. It’s growing food for them and us (if I EVER get that garden in) that feels so basic and so real. I think that’s what I’ve been missing for many years…I needed to feel something basic and REAL. Not something contrived to impress other people or make myself feel more important. I don’t need to feel more important. I don’t need someone or degree to tell me I’m worthy of anything. I AM important. I can make a difference in the world, even though it’s just my little piece of it in the backyard. Suddenly. It’s okay to be just me and to let out all the things I’ve always wanted to do but was afraid of what people would say. It simply doesn’t matter. I don’t care if anyone thinks that keeping chickens in the backyard at the edge of a major Indiana city is stupid, or dirty. It brings me simple joy. There’s something to be said for that.
I’ve become interested in pulling things around me that are things I’ve always loved. I immerse myself in artwork, writing and music. I’ve found things from my childhood that speak to me. I looked everywhere online for a plant that my grandmother and aunt grew. It’s called Baby Tears and it has tiny little leaves and trails and spreads from the pot it grows in. Having that plant, that my grandmother used to grow is very important for some reason. Caring for it and watching it grow and spread, is a big deal. It’s a simple thing and it ties me to my roots.
Last night, I washed my husband’s grandmother’s china that had been languishing in a box in the garage. It’s an old pattern of pink roses. I walked by that box in the garage probably 345.5 times and never thought about it, but one day, I stopped and picked up a fragile cup. Why was I letting something so beautiful sit in a box? After the china was washed and dried, I arranged it in the china hutch. My husband was watching and when I stood back to look at the finished work, he said “My grandmother would be happy”…and although I did not ever meet his grandmother, that made me feel incredibly happy myself. I hadn’t done it because someone was coming over and I wanted to impress them, which is commonly how I’d worked in the past, I just liked it. It had meaning. I think I’ve come to the point to where I want things to mean something. I don’t want it to be complicated or stuffy. I just want purity and simplicity and I don’t care what anyone thinks about that.
Every night, my husband and I go out to the chicken coop. I say it’s to tuck the chicks in bed, but frankly, they don’t really care if I come out or not. While I’m there, I usually bring them a treat, turn off their window fan if it’s cool outside or maybe change their water so that it’s clean and fresh with a new dose of apple cider vinegar in it. Most of the time though, I sit in my chair with my feet propped against a bale of straw and Tom leans on the fencing in the coop and we just watch them. They play, scratch in the shavings, peep incessantly, bicker over bits of treats, annoy each other and then finally they’ll begin to settle down on perches or in mounds of shavings on the floor. They usually sleep in groups and the other night I noticed one of the Buff Orpington Rooster Brothers (BORBs) walk slowly over to where the other buff pullet and BORB were settled in the bedding. He peeped at them and scratched around in the shavings and finally settled as close to them as he could and laid his neck and head over the back of his brother and closed his eyes. They became an entwined pile of honey colored feathers. Seeking warmth, comfort and companionship from each other in a simple, pure way. That simple act was perfectly beautiful to me.
We usually hang out in the coop for a while. Time seems to slip away for me out there. The night toads are singing in the trees and the contented peeping and scratching of the chickens is very soothing to me. As the last one settles down, Tom will start shuffling around a bit and I’ll know it’s time to tear myself away from them. I love to watch them fall to sleep, in what seems like puddles of fluffy feathers. We lock the coop and head to the main house up the path between the pool and garage that is bordered by holly bushes. It’s all so wonderful that I feel as though it’s not real sometimes.
Many years ago, while working for a major bookseller, I discovered a photo study of a woman named Tasha Tudor. She was an acclaimed children’s illustrator and author who lived in New England in a home that was built by her son, Seth, using only hand tools in the 1970’s. She was an elderly woman in the first book I found (The Private World of Tasha Tudor) and I felt strangely drawn to her. She lived alone in this hand-built home with the things she loved. A parrot, finches, doves, goats, chickens, her beloved corgi dogs and cats were her constant companions. She devoted her life to gardening and artwork and to living on her terms. She always felt as though she had been born into the wrong century and lived her life in its entirety, as though she lived in the Victorian era. There was a simplicity and purity to her lifestyle that appeals to me. A devotion to art and writing that I admire and would like to develop. People told her she couldn’t do things and she did them anyway, because it was the way SHE wanted to live. How many of us have that opportunity and seize it? I believe we all do…if we let go of what others think and stay true to ourselves and the calling of our own soul.
So, that’s where I am as I approach fifty. I’m drawn to be more simple and devoted to the talents I’ve been given. I’m fascinated with the idea of living in old ways that are proven by time and experience. I’m ready to let go of things that hold me back, like critical former friends and living as if I was chasing something that I could never catch. And honestly, I have to thank twelve chickens. They calmed my mind so that I could hear the cry of my own soul. A noise that I was too busy to hear before.
Tasha Tudor wrote many books and illustrated countless others. The title that I think I love the most is Take Joy. So inspired am I by this magical, eccentric woman and by the life I’ve found through the chickens, I believe I will.