the best laid plans
I left the farm around 9 to meet Noreen at her home in Arlington. Arlington is the town right next to Sandgate, and in comparison it's a thriving metropolis (due to having both a bank and a gas station). Sandgate is too small for commerce and petroleum (which is exactly how us mountainfolk prefer it). I drove down the winding roadsin to town smiling. I have found that ever since I started homesteading, I smile more. The truck was running like a song, the sun was out, and I was wearing a favorite black and white flannel shirt on my way to buy livestock. Already the day was a win.
I loaded up the truck the day before with wire cages filled with straw. I covered the crates in an old quilt and lashed them down with rope, making two straw-filled dens safe from wind and chill. It seemed comfortable to me, so I figured the ten chickens Noreen and I were about to purchase would agree. I hoped they'd be comfortable. We'd be depending on them for eggs all winter.
When I got to Noreen's place I found her sitting on her back steps, waiting patiently. I was a little late due to getting caught up in a conversation over at the gas station. Allan, who owns the Citgo, is also a musher and his five beautiful Siberians down the street from me are playmates of Jazz and Annie's. We got into talking dogs and sleds and between that and the steaming cup of coffee I was preparing, I fell behind schedule. I'm always late for everything. (Sidenote: I have discovered that if you walk in ten minutes late with a pie the universe automatically makes you fifteen minutes early.) Sitting on her steps, Noreen didn't look like the Web Production Manager I knew from the office. Suddenly she was an eleven-year-old girl waiting to get on a carousel. She couldn't help herself. Chickens do this to certain people.
And she should be giddy, because she was about to be the proud owner of five young laying hens she'd been wanting for months. She had her heart set on Orpingtons and had been scanning Craigslist for weeks trying to find some for sale. She'd also fallen in love with the vocal and sassy Light Brahmas she already had. So when she found a farmer selling Orps and Brahms she was beside herself. Arrangements were made and away we'd go.
Her favorite hen, Cluck Cluck, a Light Brahma, used to be one of my birds. Now Cluck Cluck lives in the lap of luxury at the Davis Coop, which is a stunning henhouse made in three weekend's by her husband Dave. I took this picture of the establishment because I think it's a beauty. Big enough for a person to walk inside, electric-wired, and clean as a Bed & Breakfast inside. I don't think Dave realizes his true calling in this world yet...
Noreen was about to double her current flock and I was going to get a few more birds to make up for the losses from the summer. I lost so many to a horrid fox, three to some chicken mystery illness, and one rooster to the axe. Even with the five new gals I'd still have a smaller flock than I had going into last winter. But it all balances out because so many of the new birds are just starting to lay. I'll be up to my elbows in eggs by December. Just in time for Holiday baking.
We drove north the Fair Haven, a small town in Vermont about halfway between us and the chicken-delivering family. The farmers selling us the layers agreed to meet us at a gas station. I let Noreen navigate, I just drove, but I quickly realized the conversation in the car was going to be the best part of the trip no matter how great the new chickens were.
Noreen's family has lived in Arlington for generations. The stories she had about the folklore, characters, crimes, rivalries and ghost stories were wonderful. She told me about haunted houses and people thrown into jail. We talked about the feelings native Vermonters have about the influx of flatlanders, and how the populations changed so much in the state. Opinions and stories like this are what make you feel part of a place. She probably thought she was just making conversation as we rolled past the farms and pastures into Fair Haven. Truth was, she was training me to be a local.
We got to the gas station and weren't waiting long before a big green 6-wheeler pulled up alongside my little Ranger and unloaded with a smiling family. They had a big long box all ready to slide right into the back of my truck. I was silently grateful. I had been worrying I'd lose a bird by the highway in the shuffle between trucks and cages, but the new gals were already loaded in their taxi, ready to shuttle down south. Ever the professionals, they let us see the birds and approve them before we handed over the cash. Together we loaded them into the back of my bed and hands were shook. The deal was done and there would be French toast to prove it. We stood around talking about birds, horses, sheep, and shop talk for a while before we parted ways with thanks and smiles.
The more time I spend around Vermont farmers the more I want to become one.
We drove back to the Noreen's and unloaded the birds into her coop. They seemed a little rattled, but bright and healthy. Considering they were just sold, trafficked around the state, and spent four hours in a cardboard box—they looked freaking amazing. As we got them acclimated to the Davis Poultry Estate Noreen's husband, in-laws, and dog came out to see what all the fuss was about. I watched everyone talking and joking together outside, people I hardly know, but felt somewhat part of. Honestly, it warmed my heart to see a family outside and laughing because of a few birds in a backyard coop. I know they're just chickens, but "just chickens" made two women enjoy a sunny day together, tell stories, and see new parts of the state. They also managed to get two generations outside, away from a television in 2009. All those happy faces, smiling over homestead livestock made my heart melt. There's still hope for this world afterall.
A few months ago Noreen decided to get some birds and she's been in love with them ever since. Like every new chicken owner I've come across since getting into this mess, she's never regretted it for a second. She loves the attention she gives them, the eggs they give her, and the life and warmth they give to her backyard. Like me, Noreen's hooked and will never go henless again. Why would you not do something that makes you so happy?
Chickens do this to certain people.