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There Will Be Chickens (Of Course!)

Mary Niehaus RallesThere’s a bit of hibernating and nesting going on in my house. We’ve had a cold spell, with temperatures dipping into single digits and a negative wind chill factor. In fact, there is a freezing rain warning for travelers. Right this minute I am not loving Mother Nature and all her wonder as freezing rain falls outside.

I know, I know! Winter has it own quiet beauty and its place with the rest of the seasons, but I’m guessing I’m not alone in saying it’s not my favorite season. I always find myself fighting off the urge to wrap myself in a fleece blanket and flannel and stay there until the last frost in early spring.

If I were already settled in to my new place then I wouldn’t even be contemplating sitting still this long. Motivation would be mandatory. Because once I move I hope to have a few extra mouths to feed. And no, I’m not talking about more kids (unless it’s a goat for milking).

I’m talking about my baby chicks — the ones I plan to get once I’ve settled into a place with a few acres and a more rural landscape.

That landscape will be the kind where you can actually catch a glimpse of meteor showers and shooting stars instead of turning your head toward a natural phenomena that is more likely a blinking cellular tower in the distance. Instead there are places where you can get a glimpse of a brilliant full moon and absent telephone and cable wires. There are landscapes where the night is so dark that it hangs heavy in the air, and you feel solitude all around you like a warm embrace from a close friend. I’m guessing most of you already know what I’m talking about and that you might share the same sentiment.

I have lived with this backdrop in the past, and this time around I can promise you I won’t take it for granted. I won’t forget how good it feels to hear the deafening sound of country silence. That is to say, the sound of nature and katydids chirping in the night air. Not that I have denied myself that creature-comfort sound from home; a few years ago I bought a sleep sound machine on Amazon, and I drift off to sleep every night listening to the katydids, with the occasional sound of a siren and other city noises in the background.

Where was I? Oh yes: winter. I have no romantic notions about that rural scenery I’m dreaming about. I know it’s hard work to maintain any land, even on the smaller scale that I plan to purchase. I also know that it’s the kind of work I love the most — the kind where you get your hands dirty and fall into bed, exhausted, at the end of the day. In working my entire life, I finally appreciate the necessity of a career while acknowledging that there is an equally critical need for a bigger dream and purpose after the workday has concluded. A time and place where I can put my creativity and passion to work in different ways, requiring some elbow grease and effort ... away from the lighted glow of a laptop screen or iPhone.

And here I sit on a Saturday morning, considering my own bigger purpose and passion. I have to laugh when I think about how I’ve been sharing my “news” of moving with others. I feel as though I have to provide greater detail on the “why” in moving back to a more rural landscape. So I always add a catchall phrase when I talk about my plans. I smile, talk a bit about my garden last year, how I started canning jam and apple butter ... and finish with the most obvious reason: ”And I want chickens, of course.”

After all, who doesn’t love the cute little puff balls? I know, I know ... they don’t stay cute, and they create a fair amount of aromatic fertilizer. They’re a lot of work and require a team effort with the family.

I also realize that I have friends and co-workers who may be wondering if I'm experiencing some kind of mid-life crisis. Some may wonder why I see homesteading as a critical element to my two boys' life skills and education. I'd say that while my kids are well versed in online internet environments, playing in virtual worlds like Minecraft and Pokemon Go, there is still no substitute for the kind of play that comes from going outside, mucking through a creek bed, and looking for salamanders, crawdads, and the occasional fossil or arrowhead. Because for every "rare" Minecraft rank or powerful Pokemon warrior, there are better discoveries that can't be captured on a cell phone or saved online.

I believe that the parts of life we take for granted — heck, stuff that is mundane and necessary — those are exactly the places we need to make sure our kids don’t miss out on or forget about. For my family, I’ve settled on a romanticized idea that life will be far richer for us if we collect eggs every day from our own flock instead of a quick walk down the dairy and produce aisle of a grocery store. I know it’s not that simple. I also believe it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it.

Looking forward to the “chick days” at Rural King and Tractor Supply in early spring, where I can shop in earnest, carefully selecting what will be part of our new beginning. And introducing a new breed of Pokémon to my boys — Buff Orpingtons — said to be a great egg layer (not to be confused with “Pokeballs”) and of good temperament with kids!

Chicks and mother hen
Photo by Fotolia/ananaline