A month or so ago Joan emailed me an article about chicken intelligence and in it was a quote by Alice Walker from The Chicken Chronicles. What is this? Alice Walker wrote a book about chickens? I must investigate! And whaddaya know, The Chicken Chronicles is an actual book! I borrowed it from the library because how could I not? It is a slim book Walker wrote about her experience with her chickens but of course, it isn’t just about chickens.
Walker has, as she says, forty acres and a rototiller. She grew up poor on a farm and has memories of collecting eggs from the family’s chickens as well as wringing their necks for dinner. She hadn’t thought much about chickens at all until one day she noticed a chicken and her brood crossing the path in front of her. She suddenly became interested in chickens as individuals and broached the subject to her neighbors. It was decided the neighbor’s young boys would raise the chicks until they got big enough to live in Walker’s coop. She got a variety of breeds and gave them such wonderful names as Agnes of God, Gertrude Stein and Hortensia. She eventually added five more chickens to the flock, all Rhode Island Reds that she couldn’t tell apart so she named them all Gladys.
The chapters are many and short. Most of the chapters are written like letters to the chickens, “Dear Girls,” and so on. She calls herself “Mommy.” At first this really annoyed me because it seemed rather infantile. I joke about having furred and feathered children but do not consider myself their mother nor would I ever dream of calling myself Mommy in relation to them. Walker is serious. And sometimes she would seem so silly I would think, this is the woman who wrote The Color Purple?
But then all of a sudden she would come out with something like this:
It is the same with you and all the other animals of the planet. You are the song behind the world human animals inhabit. Awww…hohohohohoho….This is the vocal song you sing as chickens, but each animal has its song in its very being: we are our songs embodied; it is the song of all of us that keeps our planet balanced.
What about extinction of any singer? What about missing, or mangled, notes?
Sometimes, sitting on my green stool and lulled by your complete indifference to the consequences of your natural behaviors, I wish we were more like you. More relaxed with our breasts and bellies and our feathers (of whatever sort) and our heights and weights and how we toss our heads back to drink water or how we sometimes let a leaf of lettuce slip from out fork.
You seem so clear about who you are. So certain that you are just right as you are, that for all your intelligence and maybe in spite of it, you never need a second opinion.
Walker also finds that as she sits with her chickens she begins remembering traumas from her past that she had forgotten. But she remembers not in a reliving the past sort of way, more like, she knows she has always had these memories and has refused to acknowledge them and what they might mean. Now, watching the chickens, she finds she can stop ignoring these memories and instead recognize and accept them without being drawn back into the trauma of the past.
Walker clearly loves her chickens and takes great delight in their individuality. Because of my Dashwoods the pleasure I had in this book was doubled. The Chicken Chronicles can sometimes be a bit silly, but it turned out to have surprising depth in places. I am happy for the serendipitous discovery. Thanks for sending me that article Joan!