Susan Orleans gets it almost exactly right when she writes in her New Yorker blog Free Range about the simple, concrete pleasure of waking up in the morning and feeding the chickens.
She lives out in the country now and has a few chickens. Every morning she lugs them a bucket of water and grain.
“Even at their messiest and most burdensome these chicken chores please me,” she writes. “It’s a concrete need—water!—to which I can respond specifically—here you go, birds, water!—and the cycle is complete… It is a relief sometimes to take on a task and see it through and know it to be wholly sufficient.”
That’s all true—I just returned from two weeks of vacation in Europe, and I found myself surprised that one thing I missed about home was my morning pseudo-farm chores. Feed the chickens. Feed the goats. Water the vegetables.
Why do I say “pseudo-farm?” Because on Monday I also had to pick up three empty PBR cans someone tossed into the front yard artichoke patch. Oh, and a used blue thong—not the kind you wear on your foot. If I dared fantasize for a second that I was living on a real farm in the real country, THAT certainly keeps sets me straight.
The one other big pleasure I get from my morning animal chores is this—the one Susan Orleans neglected to mention—is this gratitude. When I toss in the Timothy grass and fill up the laying pellets, the chickens and goats are visibly relieved. (I don’t have to lug water. Susan, do yourself a favor and get an extra garden hose and a self-regulating water bucket). The animals have been up with the sun, agitating the dirt, raising the volume on their clucks and mehs, until finally they see me, the big lumbering hay-carrying creature, calling their names, followed by that damn black dog. And they grow even more excited. They race toward me. They press around me. Thank GOD you’re here. Thank YOU.
Once I drop the food, they race up to it and chomp away, the goats butting each other over who goes first, the chickens according to their prearranged caste system. They all calm down. I read all this as gratitude, as a big THANK YOU.
A lot of what we do for others during the day goes un-thanked. That’s fine. That’s the way society works. The street sweeper who cleans Victoria goes unthanked—he’s finished before I’m awake. Ditto the gardeners who mow my lawn and leave before I’m home from work, the dishwasher in the restaurant where I have lunch—we all do tasks for love or money and receive a fraction of the gratitude due. But if feeling gratitude helps make us happy, so does, to some degree, receiving it. So how great is it to start each morning making seven chickens, two dogs and two goats the happiest they’ve been in hours.
Two mornings ago I walked out and received my gratitude in the form of a picture postcard moment. Ollie, it turns out, has been serving as roost for three of the new birds.