It sounded like a killer let loose in the chicken coop, so I jumped from the couch in hot pursuit. With my bare hands—and still nearly napping, though my feet were suddenly flying—I was apparently going to have to best a raccoon or a fox, though perhaps I’d get lucky and merely have to duel a vole. Point is, my wife loved those chickens and it was her birthday, for God’s sake. Gallantry was in order.
I had to outrun—then outfight—this demon.
For those new to this column, let me chronicle how I arrived at a surreal point when a nap was punctured by a flat-out sprint toward venal killers—and in my backyard, no less.
Earlier this year, Lori and I surprised friends, neighbors and probably even ourselves by deciding to raise chickens. Never mind that we already had 3 kids and 2 dogs and 2 cats. And forget that we hardly have a farm, barely even 1/5 of a suburban acre. Fact is, we’re not alone in feeling a pull toward chickens. Chickens were referred to in The New Yorker as the new “it” bird and Alice Walker just came out with a book called “Chicken Chronicles,” essays of her thoughts while gazing at her navel in her chicken coop. (Yes, I bought it for my wife. No, I won’t read it, even at gunpoint.)
But I digress. The point is that there was an apparent massacre in my midst—Helter Skelter meets hens--and, hold on, I’m getting there. But first let me just say that our decision to jump onto the feathery bandwagon was easier said than done. I suffer from a bad case of nonchalance about how hard new projects will be, but even Lori was taken aback about how much it cost to build a chicken run and small coop.
We stopped counting at $1,800. There goes the economic justification for raising your own livestock.
But life stretches beyond the ledger. And chickens are (and I apologize for this ahead of time) odd ducks. Their necks bob with comic regularity even as their habits—reliably going home to roost every night—add a certain gracious, timeless cycle to a suburban life, otherwise too far in the hold of school bus arrivals and departures, a violin lessons here, grocery shopping there.
Was it all over before it had barely started?
Luckily, no. Despite the battle cries emanating from the chicken run, my tussling services were not needed, nor were the skills of a forensic specialist. All the hens were totally fine. The only sight out of the ordinary was Loretta Sopressata, one of our five, who was simply activated like never before. Clucking loudly, something had given her a shot to the spirit. Inspecting the run and its perimeter, I found no trespasser, or even an attempt at a breach.
I went to their coop: also, all quiet. And that’s when I saw them: a pair of eggs. They were the first the hens had laid. That we had effectively paid $1,000 for each could be brushed aside, at least for the moment. These were our first eggs. They came a month ahead of schedule and right on my wife’s birthday.
I stared at the perfect pair of brown eggs, one elegantly spotted, for a few minutes, posed them for photographs and as soon as my wife came home, we called up the neighbors, who came over to gawk.
Both timeless and an idea of the moment, only chickens can turn the production of two simple eggs into a collective revelation.
Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," the true story of a murderer, from Westchester, who almost got away with it. His upcoming book on volunteer firefighting across America, “Local Heroes,” is due out in 2012. He wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville. He also serves as a volunteer firefighter. You can contact Marek through his website: www.marekfuchs.com or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.