Because of travel plans and other pending conflicts, I have been a “chickenless” countryman for the past two years. With the resolution to live more “mindfully” in 2016, that condition just had to be remedied. For the past week our home has been filled with the sounds of new life as a clutch of baby chicks, just recently out of the shell cheep from a temporary brooder in a back-room just off our kitchen. Not only is it the sound of self-reliance and security, but a veritable alarm clock of happy memories reaching back across the years. Shirley and I find ourselves looking for every excuse to wander into the back room to stand just out of sight in order to drink in those cheering notes. For Shirley who grew up just on the outskirts of a small Vermont village, with laying hens grazing outside the rear door where a family cow supplied milk, cream, butter and cottage cheese (and ice cream) for six. I might add a productive berry patch, large vegetable garden, vintage rhubarb, and an old-time Duchess of Oldenburg apple tree I would press cider from years later.
Meanwhile in faraway New Jersey where my father gardened on a small-town acre and ordered baby chicks by the hundred, I was growing up with that annual cheeping sound welcoming springtime and a family enterprise that made our back door a busy place throughout the World War Two years even before we escaped to a Vermont hillside dairy farm where chickens, ducks and the odd goose added their voices.
From our present home place we look down on our pasture acres where – in just the last week - we have watched three new calves rise on their wobbly legs and voice their first objection to their mothers’ rough tongue. Within 24 hours they are racing around and bawling at each other like marathon runners before dropping to the grass for a long nap while their moms are busy eating grass and making more milk for supper.
There is yet another sound to add to the chorus; a strange crank-crank-crank coming from the tall ancient cottonwoods across the river in whose still-naked upper branches the seven large hard-to-hide stick nests abandoned last November are once again tenanted by the long-legged tall-necked and noisy Great Blue Herons who returned this morning from their winter pilgrimage. Now we watch as the guys and the gals share the labor of last-minute repair work leading to the egg-laying and food-carrying which will fill the days ahead. Keeping a watch on all this will be the pair of Bald Eagles who know everything that is going on for the several square miles they patrol, the white flashes of their heads and tail feathers coasting by us at window level every day.
The local squadron of Gambrel’s Quail which half- march and half- fly, top knots nodding, across our front yard at least once a day – their posted “sentry” watching from atop a big rock – chatter to their young cadets adding their obsessive instructions to all the other sounds that fill a new spring morning.
Best of all though is the chuckling of a brand new GREAT grand-baby; especially when its number 14! Always a lucky number.