We've learned to take what we can get since moving to our little farm, especially in the sense that when we work we pray for God's blessing, invoking many a saint's intercession along the way as we do (hopefully) the best we can, and hope for the best! The great lesson, since we are after all but mere mortals and fallen at that, in addition to never having done many of the things we now feel inspired to put our hands to, is one of realistic expectations and trust in and humblest gratitude for God's will. And so, most recently, when one of our hens suddenly decided she felt broody (after we had asked the chickens all kindly to sit last spring but they, all of them, refused!), we let her sit, offering more than a few prayers and hoping for the best. Very much more recently I flooded Our Lady with Memorares, realizing that Dot (the chosen hen) was looking quite serious in her sitting business, and further realizing that just because we idealized letting mama hen do all the work and letting nature take its course, still there are the natural risks and potential failures involved even in a little matter like hatching a nest of chicken eggs. Would the hen, after all, know what to do? How will the tiny chicks fare with the rest of the flock, especially the mean ol' rooster? How exactly, even if we put out chick feed and water, will they learn to consume it? Is Fall a good time for baby chicks to be born? These are practical questions with many plausible answers. In the end (and this seems to be how it always goes) - praying, and then doing what we can, and then working with reality as it manifests, is the best way to go!
It may seem funny that we could get so excited about chickens, and we are sometimes surprised at the level of drama these birds have produced in our home life, but then again thank God for their place in our lives here, for we are all the better for the drama of caring for chickens. Thus, Wednesday morning it was with great delight I discovered a tiny, newly hatched chick right next to Dot in her sitting box. In honesty it looked just like a wet feather, a tiny little helpless, vulnerable thing - but I know that's how the beginning goes for creatures. As is typical, too, I had not actually tracked her sitting progress perfectly, and so I thought we had at least another several days before hatching could really begin (if it came about at all). Petitioning heaven to help things go smoothly, I did some quick review research, made the happy announcement to the children, and outlined what we needed to do to make decent provision for the hen to rear her little brood, with reminders that we need not run around like chickens with our heads cut off, but should proceed as much as possible like the seasoned country folk we pretend - in all sincerity try with earnestness - to be.
We scuttled the very concerned other hens out and blocked them into the run for the time being, cleaned up the coop as non-invasively as possible around the soon to be, maybe, teeming nursery box, hauled cinder blocks and bricks to construct some manner of stairs for the chicks to get down and back up again, set a fresh waterer on the floor of the coop, and closed everything up quietly again. We tried to feed and give water to Dot to no success, so serious was she, so we let her be. Later, the first chick was amazingly transformed into a quite adorable and fluffy, bright eyed little thing - bringing us all the memories of our first encounter with our chickens when they were babies long ago. But, hooray! One of our chickens has hatched her own chicks, one of many goals we've nurtured and a big step in our book. On top of the excitement of the hatching, it is astounding to watch how quickly the chicks are viable. One moment they lie helpless, the next they are bobbling around, in and out from beneath the warm sanctuary of their protective mother, then next they take up the cue to drink water and peck at food, wholly unlike human infants who are so utterly helpless and entirely dependent for so long (though not without far more profoundly God-given capacities) - but not unlike in some of the emotions and deeper realities they evoke. Only God can make a tree, and only God can make the beautiful form and being of creatures - we are His intricate handiwork!
Now, everyone knows you should not count your chickens before they're hatched. We do not know if in the end our Dot will turn out something like Jemima Puddle-duck, for indeed most modern day chickens have had their instincts bred right out of them. Needless to say there are a good portion of eggs left under Dot - who sits still - whose fate we cannot tell. And even just moments ago, we found that one of the five hatched so far - the one that had seemed especially fragile from the first - did not make it. This one we had taken extra care to tuck under Dot, so long it had been lying still without moving after it had hatched, and it did indeed revive and briefly blossomed into an adorable golden and grey striped fluff-ball, but we watched it with reservation. ~ We took its tiny, lifeless little body a few minutes ago and placed it in a small grave quickly dug (near where Veronica's poor goldfish were buried last year!), complete with prayers of thanksgiving to Our Heavenly Father, the Lord of All Life, in gratitude for the brief chance to care for this creature and in petition for help to care for the rest, whatever He grants us to do. He gives, and He takes away, blessed be His Holy Name!
One additional happy note to be made is the immediate joy that springs up in an encounter with new life. In the last forty eight hours we have witnessed spontaneous smiles and giddy exclamations from grown ups and children and typically cool-headed teenagers alike, and those glimpses of innocent pleasure are welcome in a weary world. These moments are momentary, and we'll take them as they come. Chickens are not considered by many to be abundantly important in the scheme of things, but our experience with them has enriched our lives so (not to mention their use in providing us delicious and nutritious eggs) and to hold a baby chick or hear its little peep - perhaps before it has even broken through the shell of its egg - is a wondrous thing that revives the life blood of most decent souls and makes you happy to be alive. Deo gratias for simple reminders of His magnanimous Providence, and may we be worthy of the gifts He grants us in this life.
On this little homestead our family aspires to work the land and hand on the Catholic Tradition, walking in wonder and learning to live by the fruits of our labor, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, who guides us to Him.