Today was the first real test of my ability to handle the harsh realities of farm life.
I’ll admit, there’s a large part of me who is still the kid that obsessively read Ranger Rick magazines and tried to “save” all of the worms that would get run over in the driveway when it rained (and still relocates any and all confused insects in my house back outside instead of sucking them up in the vacuum cleaner.) There’s also a part of me that, over the last year, has begun to respect the fact that farm life is about life. The breathtakingly awesome parts of it, and the sacrifices required to sustain the balance of, well, everything.
So. I lost a Nugget.
I don’t mean lost as in “able to be found”, lost as in “no longer a part of the flock. Or existence.”
Because my work days are getting longer and the daylight hours are getting shorter, it was well after dark when I arrived home last night. The Nugs were in their coop as usual, waiting for me to lock them in for the night. I shut the doors, sang them a little song, my usual nightly routine.
This morning, because I was in the middle of herding an escaped donkey back in to the pasture while wearing only a towel and muck boots (it happens), I didn’t count how many chickens came out of the coop in the morning. When I left the house I only noticed five, but there’s usually a straggler, so I didn’t think much of it.
When I got home from work this evening–while it was blessedly still light out– I noticed only five nuggets again. No straggler.
Then I saw this…
And knew one of the Nuggets was gone.
While this was inevitable, I still expected to feel sadness or guilt. Instead all I felt was acknowledgement. This happened.
There was no body, just a trail of feathers leading out to the Back Four. Part of me just wanted to say, “well, that’s that” and move past it without really thinking about it. Instead, I found myself tracking the feathers back through the field, wondering if it was just morbid curiosity leading me out there, because really, what good could come of following those feathers to their inevitable conclusion?
But I realized as I walked through the field in the fading light, following each feather to the next, that I wasn’t looking for what was left of her. I just wanted to acknowledge that this was where a creature who was under my care lived the last minutes of its life. It’s okay that I’m not sad, but that doesn’t mean I need to be dismissive. That I can’t honor her life.
I understand that this is the cycle of things. There is a coyote nearby with a full belly, and I’m not angry about that. Accepting it doesn’t mean that I won’t try to be a better caretaker to my flock. One day I might raise birds to eat them, and then it will be me with the full belly, and that’s okay too.
I want to be strong enough to handle the reality of farm life, but today also reinforced my belief in respecting life in all of its many forms. It’s not always easy, but it is something I’m learning from this land every day.