It was a balancing act walking out the back door this morning. My arms were weighted down with a variety of plastic containers holding scraps of food perfect for hungry chickens. The screen door slammed behind me and I stopped briefly just to take in the sunrise and fresh air. It’s warm today, a nice southerly wind sweeping over the dead grass, drying out the air and leaving me with a longing to be outside, instead of sitting at my desk doing the tasks that call to me with greater urgency.
I stopped just outside the chicken coop and dropped the containers. One by one I emptied them over the fence and watched as the chickens scrambled to feast on the scraps. A familiar bird call rang out from overhead. I looked up to see a beautiful red-winged blackbird sitting on the telephone wire above. I’ve heard him several days over the past few weeks, but this is the first time I’ve seen him. I greeted him and watched him fly away, then collected the empty containers and headed to the garage to carry on with the rest of the chores. Hungry cats raced to their bowls as Lisa poured cat food for them to eat. I walked past her to the corner of the garage where the hay is kept. I took two flakes of alfalfa and headed to the milk barn. Seven glowing pregnant ladies greeted me with appetites for the sweet goodness of the dense grainy alfalfa. I gave them all a pat on the head and walked back to the chickens.
Morning chores are a meditation, a practice that calls me to leave behind the swirling anxious or excited thoughts that clutter my mind and focus my attention on my present surroundings. However routine the chores may seem, they involve the care of animals, care that requires more than the completion of tasks. Attention is needed to be aware of their health and safety. And at every corner I am reminded that I may be responsible, but I am not in control, an awareness that calls me out of my head into my surroundings, alert and ready to give attention to the details of my environment.
When I returned to the chicken coop, I stood at the fence and opened the barrel to throw them a little scratch to go with the scraps. When I looked up to fling the grain and seed, my eyes caught a glimpse of Ginger, the Great Pyrenes farm dog, inside the coop, but she didn’t belong there and in the morning, pre-second-cup-of-coffee fog, it didn’t stick with me…dog, BIG dog, inside the chicken coop, inside the high fenced walls of the coop, eating scraps of food alongside chickens who appeared less than concerned by her presence, and when it finally registered, I stood there for a moment, jaw dropped and breath held wondering how on earth she’d gotten in. I still don’t know. It was such a quick and trail-less entry that I’m wondering if she’s discovered the secret of teleportation. Either way, the illusion of control that fences and locked gates and things as they should be offers quickly dissolved with the sight of her white furry presence amidst the cackling hens and crowing roosters.
I opened the gate and scolded her. She turned to look at me, head down, dejected, frozen in her position inside the coop. I held the gate open and stepped out of her path, calling her to come. She walked slowly toward me, tail tucked and head down, and reluctantly left the coop. She stopped just outside the gate, looking with longing inside at the scraps on the ground. I gave her an understanding pat. Though frustrated with her, I admire her will.
I checked the water cans in the coop and found that between the dry air and the thirsty chickens, they’d emptied the two cans I filled the day before. I filled them again and walked back to the garage to get another can to help ensure that they have enough.
The goats and sheep in the back pasture were waiting at the gate for me when I got there. Pascal the llama stood amongst them, his watchful eye guarding their safety. I counted the sheep and noticed one was missing. My heart raced. We’ve been waiting for the two ewes to give birth. Unsure of the exact day when they were bred, we’ve known for awhile now that it could be any day. Last night I told Lisa I hoped I walked out to find a lamb. She smiled and said, “Not tomorrow! I have to leave for work at 7:30. I won’t have time to get things ready for mama and baby.”
“Well, can we have a baby on Friday?”
“Yes, Friday or Saturday or Sunday. But Monday’s not good, and neither is tomorrow!”
I looked past the sheep and goats and noticed the older ewe on the ground several yards behind the crowd at the gate. I walked over to her and realized she was just resting. She’s old and tired and frequently separates from the crowd now. There was no baby, and I breathed a sigh of relief and walked toward the barn to feed everyone. She jumped up to follow me.
This is still new to me, but today I felt like a farmer, awake to and aware of the world in my care if even for only a few minutes this morning. I’ve raced around every morning this week, scrambling to get out the door and off to an early meeting at work. I felt the same tension in my chest when I woke up, but with the first deep breath of the fresh air when I walked outside, I let the work of morning chores slow me down and call me into full awareness of my presence in this world. It’s a life I could get used to. It’s a life I’m learning to love.