Another Day in the Country
Digging in the dirt
© Another Day in the Country
It is my absolute joy on a spring day to be outside digging around in the dirt, tidying up the flower beds, planting seeds — and then glancing up and seeing my hens busy with their own natural inclination to scratch in the dirt and rearrange dry vegetation even more effectively than I can.
A constant watchful eye is necessary for my hens to be out foraging in the yard. I’m always afraid I’ll forget their presence, wander back into my house unaware, and allow tragedy to strike in the form of a neighbor’s unconfined dog.
In my eye, it is a perfect springtime view — daffodils, never managing to be huge drifts, but bright bunches blooming all shades of yellow, orange, and white with my busy hens keeping them company.
Meanwhile, I put out sunflower seeds in the bird feeder, hoping cardinals will appear. Instead, grackles came with their iridescent slender bodies, narrow beaks, and yellow rimmed eyes.
At first, I was disappointed in their arrival because they can empty a feeder in a flash. Where other birds carry off seeds or grab and gulp, grackles stay a while and fly down in flurries.
My grandson’s tree, a cottonwood that stands taller than all the other trees is not yet leafed out. Both are 15 years old — the child and the tree. How much taller will they get?
Unlike their cousins, the blackbirds, the grackles call out to each other softly. A dove watches from a scraggly elm growing randomly between my yard and the pasture next door. The hens murmur to each other in contentment. I take a break and sit down in a lawn chair.
It’s rather quiet in Ramona at this moment. There’s not even a train within ear shot. The dove comes closer, flying down to eat at this restaurant for birds, momentarily empty of other patrons.
The grackles, fully fed, spend their time courting in an apple tree.
My hens are happy to be released for a time from their familiar house — where food and water are secure, provided — as am I.
The chickens, unaware of any over-watching on my part, take for granted both their safety and my delight in their presence. I am the god of their world, unacknowledged and unimaginably powerful. Their fate is in my hands, not all that different from a controlling power that we humans configure for ourselves to be responsible for our lives.
Heloise, the black and white Polish topknot who used to be the Duke’s favorite, lifts her head in alarm, listening. A quickening breeze ruffles the beautiful feathers on her head as she eyes the yard.
It’s time to move, she signals to Elizabeth the Queen, who motions to the three ladies in waiting. They scuttle across the grass to a redbud thicket that is just coming into bloom.
It’s a new frontier for the free-range hens but a bad memory for me. I remember when a whole flock of chickens, lazily ruffling their feathers in loose humus beneath those trees, was wiped out in an instant — no warning scent on the breeze, no negotiations, just one moment peace and the next destruction as they ran for their lives.
I sit in my blissful backyard kingdom, very aware of the blessings I receive moment by quiet moment. No sounds of warfare are anywhere around —no gunfire, no bombs dropping, no mortar shells flying through the walls of my home, no foreign power invading my yard, my roads, my little town, my county. My only concern is a stray dog.
How lucky we are that somewhere, miles away, in office buildings we can only imagine, there are thousands of people working every day to maintain peace — not just in our country but also in our backyard and in our neighbor’s yards around the world.
We don’t know these peacekeepers; we couldn’t name them, never thank them. But they labor on, each in their own sphere, attempting to protect our internet connections from invasion, our electrical supply from interference, our water clean enough to drink, our borders from incursion, our news outlets from blatant falsehoods, and our monetary system functioning.
Meanwhile, we go about another day in the country, unconcerned — as oblivious as my hens are of the wider world and its complexity beyond their own backyard.