You need more chicken in your life.
An email came in last week -- last week already! -- letting me know, very gently, very compassionately that Patti had died.
"She gone!" my husband wrote.
It wasn't until the past Sunday when the weather was nice and enough snow had melted to entice the chickens outside beyond the steps that I had the chance to express my condolences.
"Oh, Patti is gone, girls," I said as I tossed scratch on the ground without Patti's usual hopping underneath.
Patti was one of the founding members of the second wave of our original flock. Shortly after we opened our newly-built coop (and the fulfillment of a dream of mine to have livestock), the original eight brown laying hens were augmented by four "purebred" hens and new rooster (after a fox made off with our first one within a day of his arrival). I didn't name any of the brown hens because, sorry girls, they all look the same but the new ones were all different.
Patti received her name because she is a patridge-coloured Rock.
Chicken names are as arbitrary as that. (I have an australorp named Gwen because her feathers are jet black and they remind me of an older woman in my hometown who had a helmet of hair the same colour).
We don't actually know how long a hen lives but Patti was a young bird when we got her so she lived to be six years old. She was friendly, inquisitive and companionable around the yard. When she knew we had come into the outer coop and could hear the sound of the feed scoop in the scratch, she would throw herself against the door.
Once we'd opened the door into the actual poultry living space, she would leap up to pick food right off the scoop.
Patti the Pogo Chick.
There is only one remaining chicken from that original flock -- and that's our rooster, Brewster.
Here is some of the crew several years ago when our flock was again down to half a dozen or so. Brewster is one the right -- handsome boy -- and Patti is on the right (and that's Gwen third in).
Yes, every chicken in this picture has a name. Sadly, only Brewster, Gwen and Beulah are with still with us.
Boy, do I miss knowing who is who, being able to give them names.
I miss hanging out with my chickens. It's very peaceful. The gentle sound of their berk-berk-berk as they wander around pecking at the ground, their squawks when one enforces the pecking order, their dirt baths, Brewster's crow.
"Your welcome," I say to him since I'm sure he's saying thank you for whatever treat I've brought out.
We've been mostly lucky in our choice of birds; they're generally docile. They are fun to hang out with. When we first started with the chickens, I'd spend a good part of my day with them, listening to them, watching them, breathing, relaxing, calming down.
Now I'm busy, trying to fit a walk with the dogs in after a long day at work, rushing to and from interviews and meetings and appointments. It shocks me to realize that I'm too busy to be part of the chicken chores and the chicken's routines. I helped a dozen chicks come into the world last July but I hardly know them now and they're laying eggs (green ones). There's a little black one in the flock now that really should be named...
I'm not taking the time to hang out with the chickens and that's a loss.
Like losing Patti but not missing her.
Like losing farms but not noticing the empty fields.
When you are too busy to mourn the passing of a favourite chicken or a long-time farmer, you are in danger of losing touch with the little things that feed our bodies and our spirits.