Listening For the Chickens
I have a new morning routine. After peeling myself up from my bed, I make a cup of hot, strong, milky tea and then I turn right around to head straight back into bed. This is not purely a decadent move on my part (although there is naturally some of that involved given that it’s me we’re talking about here); rather, my return to bed is mostly because my sofa didn’t fit through the door of my new apartment and so I’m stuck with the bed until I figure something out. Still fuzzy and barely awake, I sit up amongst the pillows and take small, quick sips of tea. The taste of this tea, these first sips of the day, are perhaps one of my most favorite tastes in the world. I settle in, sip-sip-sip, and then I start listening for the chickens.
Backing up a bit, just about one month ago, I was sitting in the front seat of a creaky, sagging, dilapidated (but nobel!) bio-fueled jalopy driven by a kind and generous young man who was a stranger to me but friends with a friend. The car was chock-full with the last load of my monumental move from Berkeley to Oakland, which the almost-stranger had graciously volunteered to help me with. We were idling with alarming vigor at a stop light on the border between the two cities when we spied a chicken by the side of the road. She was a copper-colored beauty, with a bright red comb and a plump, well-cared for physique. Meandering along, pecking at the scruffy grass and clucking softly, she seemed quite unperturbed to find herself near a busy urban intersection. This chicken, I suspected, was a sign of things to come. A good sign.
I bet you’re thinking that now I’m going to tell you about how, in the single month that I’ve lived in my new place, I managed to build a chicken coop and stock it full of copper-colored chickens. That would hardly be the case. I still don’t have a couch, if you recall, not to mention there’s an entire wall lined with unpacked boxes and several sets of shelves that need installing. And that’s just the beginning. Don’t even get me started on the pantry that needs to be built in the kitchen and how sad my cookbooks are that they’re still hidden away in moving boxes.
Not that I don’t dream of that chicken coop. Long before keeping chickens became a trendy thing that people wrote about in The New York Times, I’ve wanted to keep my own chickens. I grew up spending part of my summers on a farm in northern Wisconsin where at a young and tender age I would help my grandfather gather eggs in the morning and butcher chickens in the afternoon. My mother still talks about how her Czech grandmother kept chickens in her back yard in the middle of Chicago, so clearly chicken keeping is deep in my DNA, going back generations to the small farm outside of Prague where my people are from.
My adult years so far have been too transient and too urban to set up a flock. Until now. Until I crossed the border into the fine city of Oakland where keeping chickens has pretty much become the norm. So much so that on my small, block-long street alone there are at least five chicken coops. Five.
So in the mornings, before I’m fully awake, I sit in bed with my cup of tea and listen to the chickens. Not my own, mind you, but the ones across the fence in my neighbor’s back yard. On foggy mornings especially they can get a little restless, clucking and cooing and making that unmistakable chicken sound. Soon they are joined by the whoosh of the subway as it emerges from the ground a few blocks over and the rhythmic thumping of a hip hop car that will inevitably set off a few car alarms. Bird song, crashing recycling bins, the neighbors cat mewing for its breakfast – all this is music, my inspiration, the song of my mornings.
For now I can stay snuggled up in my bed, thinking of chicken coops and copper-colored beauties, dreaming of fresh eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But once that vision comes true, I suspect that I’ll be spending my mornings wandering around the back yard, my cup of tea in one hand and a can full of kitchen scraps in the other, brushing chicken feathers from my hair and living the dream in Oakland, California.
(Image: Planet Save)