In another part of the country at an aviation fundraiser, pilots each drop a chicken from their planes at low altitude and the one whose chicken hits the target circle painted on the ground wins. The idea is that when the chickens flap their wings it prohibits a fatal landing, and it’s funny to watch.
“That idea will never fly here,” I grimaced.
My Wallowa County learning curve includes lessons on chickens. Before I arrived here, my closest association with poultry was chicken nuggets grabbed at a fast food restaurant.
The basic understanding of “where do chicken nuggets come from” was there, but it didn’t really matter to me. Also in the picture, a huge chicken processing plant leased hundreds of chicken farms around my former home.
When the occasional Deep South heat wave killed thousands of chickens in the 300-foot long poultry houses, my only concern was to pinch my nose shut as I drove by. The smell was horrendous.
“Respect The Chicken” was not on my radar.
During my initial reconnaissance of Wallowa County, I visited the Joseph United Methodist Church. When sharing prayer requests and announcements, a woman on the front pew announced that Fred the Rooster was ready for the pot. She didn’t have time to pluck it, so if anyone wanted it, let her know.
Coming from a Bible-Belt-fundamentalist-rigid-reverence background, I thought, “Wow. That’s different” and decided to relocate here.
In Wallowa County, chickens are considered pets, with given names and unique personalities.
A friend introduced me to Frozen Toes, a motherly chicken whose feet had been injured from frostbite. Her coop-mate, Raspberry, was not interested in raising her chicks, so Frozen Toes took over and raised them as her own.
This endeared her to me, and when I received the call one morning that a fox had raided the chicken pen and Frozen Toes was not to be found, I sobbed.
“What has become of you?” the old me asked.
Another friend has a chicken house trailer, so that when she spends extensive time at her cabin, she can bring her chickens with her.
At a recent barbecue, several women arrived with their eggs to compare the different colors and sizes as though speaking of their children.
While visiting another ranch woman one frigid day, she said, “Watch this.”
Outside her kitchen window a hen and a young rooster were standing on a rail fence, their backs toward us.
“She’s teaching him how to keep his feet warm.”
It was like watching synchronized swimming at the Olympics. She slowly raised her right foot up to her feathers as snowflakes whirled about. Young Rooster did the same.
Or maybe it was chicken yoga, “Breathe in. Hold.”
She eased the right foot down; he followed suit.
She leaned a little to the right as she lifted her left leg. He copied. After five minutes of this back-and-forth business, I had to walk away from laughing so hard.
Perhaps owning chickens is in my future. I’ll have to meditate on that.
Katherine Stickroth is a freelance writer who blogs at awallowagal.com.