Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor

My wife, God bless her, will take into her care whatever needy creature happens to fall into her space. She came home a few months ago with various tomato plants because she took pity on the local gal selling them at the farmers market.

“They’re heirlooms” she said, as if to vindicate the leggy plants purchased well before they would survive the garden nights.

“What kinds?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Whatever.”

I don’t plant WHATEVER in my garden as a rule, taking a bit more forethought about what occupies space in our limited garden fortress.

But there they grow–a brandywine tomato, and two other unknowns whose names quickly washed off their labels–a sure sign the seller was sorta new at this game. But she was selling plants that needed a good home. And my guess is the wife gave her a few bucks extra “because she was a nice person.” I’ll say no more.

Except: she’s done the same thing with livestock. Somebody at the Wednesday night church service “got a few chickens need a good home.”

Bingo: you guessed it. Sight unseen, we have them over in the quagmire that is the barn-roof-runoff saturated chicken pen. (And therein lies another story.) Herself had no idea as to the age, breed or other qualities of said orphaned birds, and she went up maybe two months back and fetched them home: two look-alike fowl of potential chickenhood, and a much smaller genetically modified chickenoid organism.

The birds are of an age that we might expect the two actual chickens to start laying along about October before they stop laying during the shorter days of November. So we’ll get–what–a dozen eggs, each requiring by then a total of two miles and 10 hours of work a piece. Oy!

As if that were not bad enough, insult has been added to injury.

It was a few days back, sitting here peacefully reading on the front porch around 7 in the morning. What’s that! Sounded like maybe a coyote far off. I cupped my hands behind my ears to hear it better. Strange. Repeated a couple of times a minute. Not a howl exactly. Not musical at all like a bird call. Not the bellow of a cow on a distant hilltop pasture. Just very odd.

Then the next morning heading over on poultry duty, adding another chicken mile to the cost-benefit ledger, I heard the sound again–muffled, not unfamiliar, but I couldn’t quite remember where I’d heard this sound before. It was coming from the henhouse, still at that hour closed for the night before.

It was the pitiful adolescent croak of a young rooster. And with that announcement, our pathetic miles per egg ratio just doubled.

The GMO bird will likely begin growing a third wing soon, an obvious grotesquery of diabolical genetic whimsy that we (or at least I) never would have intentionally gathered into our overindulgent fold for orphan plants and animals. So we have a chimera, a hen, and a he-chicken.

After witnessing the beating our couple of hens suffered at the, er, hand of the rooster we inherited from another neighbor a few years back, I can say with certainty he won’t live here long enough to perfect his crow into anything that says rooster to the world.

Free to a good home. To any home. CockaDoodle won’t do a’tall.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Oh yes. There was old One-eyed Charlie when the children were small. He was a surly sort. We armed the kids with a canoe paddle when gathering eggs. Time came for him to enter his retirement home–a large pot of water boiling on the stove. He was not interested and I gave chase. Finally I gave .22

    With a certain amount of pressure cooking, he was palatable.

    I think I’m out of the chicken-skinning biz. We’ll give him to a colorful neighbor who will treat him like a little feathered person. Which is to say–not all that different than our local Chicken Maven’s clucking and mothering.