Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Still Life in Iris Garden

This picture was two taken two weeks ago when the irises were still lush and healthy. Which is more than I can say for the chickens. It's taken me this long to reflect on this experience that I now call 'Chicken Sunday.'

The farm where we buy our eggs had a few extraneous roosters that persistently ended up where they weren't wanted and needed to be dispatched. My farmer-architect-husband, who raised chickens back in Ohio well before I arrived in his life, was quick to step up with hatchet in hand to solve the problem.

Now I enjoy telling people that I grew up in rural New Jersey, roaming wide open fields, biking back roads and country lanes, and even on occasion followed our neighbor's dairy cows down the road to the school bus stop. Most don't have this vision of New Jersey. But my rural childhood instilled in me an abiding respect for nature and a love of the land. At the same time, I'm also someone who gets squeamish pulling the giblet bag out of a frozen turkey. However, in the spirit of South Dakota pioneers, and I'm certain my earliest New Jersey ancestors, I decided I needed to have the experience of butchering a chicken at least once in my life.

So out we went to the farm. I played with the turkeys and the ducklings while my farmer-architect-husband 'did the deed' in the chicken house. With our future chicken dinners in a large plastic bag in the back of our Jeep, we drove back to town to perform the final rites. I was assigned plucking detail. I really surprised myself at how I was able to perform my task with an air of clinical detachment. By the time I was on bird 3, I even discerned the need to adopt different plucking techniques to different feather types and carcass locations.

Nearing the end of bird 4, I was ready to be finished with the experience. I was recalling conversations with different people around town, "Oh yes we used to do a 100 chickens at a time." That many chickens to be plucked by hand defies even my fervid imagination. By the time I finished bird 4 it took a supreme act of will to not think about what I was doing, not inhale too deeply as I sat by the big pot of boiling water. I tried to tune out the primal barking and baying of our basset hounds, their usual scents of backyard squirrels and rabbits effectively overcome by the fresh scent of hot wet chicken feathers and assorted gizzards and innards.

Strangely I started thinking about my paternal grandmother, that she was with me, and watching me and cheering me on. I have vivid memories of my grandmother making piccallily, chow-chow, rivel soup, and other homely dishes, but I never saw her dispatching chickens. Yet clearly something primal in my background has managed to leak out around my ertswhile more 'sophisticated' life experiences.

For now, our future chicken dinners are lying expectantly in the freezer in the basement. I think it will be a while yet until theyre invited to the table.

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