I came home to my sister lounging on the grass in the front yard, sweet tea in hand. Surrounding her were several of our chickens; a palette of speckles, crimson and snow white, they pecked at the ground, clucked and strutted around indifferent to her presence. Stepping around them in hopes of sneaking a bit of chicken feed were our two friendliest goats, Willow and Juniper. I could hear Asterisk, our Labrador, panting in the heat under his black coat. He barked to greet me and then returned to his shaded retreat. Our cat Williams sat nearby switching his tail in annoyance at the whole scene.
I gingerly lifted Cora from her car seat and plopped her down right beside her aunt. She squealed in delight and took off crawling after the chickens. At just under 10 months, the sights and sounds of animals amuse her greatly. She let out another squeal as she managed to brush the tail feathers of a chicken before the hen quickly waddled off to another part of the yard in search of stray crumbles to devour. “She’s going to grow up thinking this is normal,” my sister said in reflection.
Hum, I thought to myself, I hope so.
I hope this is her normal. Creating this sanctuary is what is at the heart of my desire to homestead. I want her and her older brother to experience the joy and pain of living closer to nature; gain a sense of responsibility; learn teamwork and self-reliance; gain a knowledge and respect for the natural world and our inescapable connection to it; practice gratitude.
I want them to be gripped with fear and excitement while watching a baby goat being born; to witness a new life still warm as steam rolls up from its wet coat in the chilly spring air. I want them to wake up early and gather warm eggs from the coop for pancakes, which they slather in just a little too much maple syrup. I want them to dig in the earth and grow a garden. I want them to taste raw milk. I want them to do chores. I want them to play in the rain, skin their knees on gravel roads, climb trees and break sticks, build forts and flip rocks. I want them to step in poop, make mud pies and wear clothes covered in grass stains, catch crawdads and get stung by bees. I want them to breathe fresh air. I want them to depend on family and community. I want them to give back to the people and land that will give so much to them. I want them to fail. I want them to keep trying. I want them to create something better.
Most of all, I want them to love and depend on each other. I want them to know that they have a family who loves and supports them beyond measure.
As we sat there, Cora got another chance at a chicken. A brave one had gotten too close and Cora slowly touched its feet. You can see the sense of wonder as her tiny finger poked at the hen’s scaly feet. She looked up and smiled.
Yeah, I’m OK with this normal.