A Field of Memories

An Essay By Taylor // 4/17/2008

Baby Chicks Getting a Little Shut-Eye

This is a picture of the baby broiler chicks I raised in 2003. It's early January, and the temperature outside the coop is probably in the mid-30s, so they've nestled together under the heat of a brooder lamp to stay toasty warm. I like this picture for how content and peaceful the birds look.

The two, fluffy yellow chicks in the foreground are White Rocks, which will grow in the course of eight to ten weeks into six-pound birds with plumage the color of Santa's beard. The multi-colored, smaller chicks are Silver-Laced Wyandottes, which grow slower than the White Rocks and, upon maturity, show off salt-and-pepper plumage around the chest, back, and legs with a neck of almost purely white feathers. The Wyandotte is a bit wilder than the Rock, which is more than happy to be petted and stroked across the back gently, especially when drowsy as in the photo.

The summer before I received these chicks from a hatchery, I'd just finished reading Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin, an organic farmer in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, who advocates raising broilers on pasture. Green as could be to this art called farming (and at the impressionable age of twelve, I might add), I pulled together about $300 of money I'd saved to buy my first fifty chicks, build a moveable pen like the one I'd seen in the book, and buy me some feed from the local feed store. But hey, I'd read a book, hadn't I? I was more than ready to undertake the task at hand.

Remember, this was in late February, when temperatures rarely reached the 40s. Anyone familiar with February in Texas could have told me that it wasn't the best time to be raising chicks, but impatient as I was, I went ahead and ordered my chicks from the hatchery. Once they arrived, I kept them in the brooder coop a few weeks too long, waiting for friendly weather before moving them out into their pen.

Apparently I wasn't that good at judging good weather from bad. It seemed as if it rained non-stop for the next two weeks. Many a night I got soaked down to the skin out in the field, worrying like crazy for my birds. The pen I'd made had a frame of PVC pipe, which didn't have the kind of strength necessary to shed the torrents of icy cold water that fell like hell from the sky. Every morning after such a thunderstorm, I'd count to my horror four or five birds that had drowned that I'd have to burry. By the end of the summer, I'd lost all but eleven of my original fifty, and my shovel and I had buried more than our share of dead birds.

I sent the scrawny, eleven survivors of that summer to a friend's processing plant, where I quickly learned the process of butchering start to finish. Cooking the birds was another matter, though once I'd resigned myself to the fact that the meat was going to be dry, it wasn't half bad (I had been stupid enough to remove the skin before cooking, letting all of the natural juices evaporate, leaving a crusty, chewy meat that tasted nothing like chicken). Remembering the thirty-nine birds I'd lost brought such guilt and shame that I lost my appetite, so I let my family enjoy the rest.

You Lookin' At Me?

The bird in this photo is one of the matured Silver-Laced Wyandottes. Notice the white plumage that falls from its head and neck, almost like an old woman's hair, down its back and wings into a gleaming black seasoned lightly with snow-white streaks. These birds didn't make very good eating, as it is a much smaller bird that has more bone than meat, but they sure did love to pose for the camera on sunny afternoons.

Now that I live in the city, I appreciate these photos more than ever because they remind me of the farm, which I still consider home. When I took these photos, I had no idea where I'd be today or how much meaning they would carry. They help me remember what life was like before the move and before the divorce. They're little portals that transport me back in time to a younger, more innocent self, ignorant of the world, living in the very epicenter of childhood, and uncontrollably ecstatic with life.

But they're more than artifacts of the past; they also serve as placeholders for my future, which I hope will lead me back to the farm, or a farm, to the country at the very least, back to a slower way of life, away from the 24/7 traffic and noises of the city. In a season of life that contains little certainty, I find comfort in these photos' silence and enduring qualities. I take them out and study them often, for hours at a time, trying to remember my posture, thoughts, dreams, and feelings of three years ago as I held the camera in my hands, crouched to snap the shot.

My diary falls short of the chasm that separates me from my past. I was never consistent or dutiful in keeping it up to date. But these photos have the power to catapult me across the void and deliver me into my past, where awaits a field of memories that welcome me home and ask me why I've been so long away.

Comments

Beautiful Taylor, both the

Beautiful Taylor, both the writing and the pictures. Although I'm very sorry for your inspiration.
The writing is reminiscent of Tony Earley's A Boy Named Jim.

Christa | Thu, 04/17/2008

Well done! I have never had

Well done! I have never had the slightest interest in chickens, but you make everything seem interesting. That isn't easy. :)

Timothy | Thu, 04/17/2008

Taylor

Of course, I loved the part of remembering. Sad, but good job.

I have to say I'm not too proud of the fact that we have chickens. :P But you do learn a lot from them I guess... :/

I like how you put this piece together. Good job.

Brianna | Wed, 04/23/2008

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"We have been created for greater things. Why stoop down to things that will spoil the beauty of our hearts?" ~Mother Theresa

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