Chicken Scratch, a Farm Fable of Lem & Lee's Five Hens

Lem & Lee's five hens enjoy an afternoon snack
Blackie jumped down from the roost post and out the chute before daybreak.

“Doesn’t Blackie know it’s coold outside?” Goldie asked.

“Buooock,” Silver yawned.

Blondie turned her head. “Pleease cover your beeak, Silver.”

“Sooorry,” Silver replied. “What I’d give to munch on some paarsley.”

Blondie flew down upon the thick straw. “And what I’d give to swaaallow some woorms.”

“It’s been daays since Lem and Lee brought us down some greeens,” Silver said. “We all have coorn breath.”

Blondie strutted to the gain bin. “Speeak for yourself.” 

Brownie, Silver, and Goldie smiled to one another before they flew down for their morning drink.

Brownie sipped thoughtfully.

“Whaat’s on your mind, Brownie?” Goldie asked.

Before Brownie could answer, a beam of sunrise burst into the house, the first in days.

“Would you look at thaat?” Silver exclaimed.

Blondie flapped her wings in joy. “Maybee Lee will bring us some greeens today! Sunny days are her faavorite.”

“Let’s ask Blaaackie what she thinks,” Brownie suggested.

She led the way down the ramp where the four hens huddled in the cold. They turned to one another in bewilderment. Blackie, her feathers alight with daybreak, stamped her footprints in the snow.

“Excuuuse us, Blackie,” Brownie said. 

Chicken scratch in the hen's pen

Blackie did not reply. She lifted one foot, then another, this way, and that. Never had her sisters seen Blackie so serious about her chicken scratch.

“What’s Blackie doooing?” Silver whispered. “Her feet will freeeze.”

“Shhh,” said Goldie.

The second oldest of the hens, Brownie remembered her mother’s chicken scratch and understood Blackie’s behavior. But she didn’t understand the meaning of Blackie’s chicken scratch.

Blackie pressed a foot into the snow and lifted it with a smile as wide as a beak can be. “Fiiinished.”

“Whaaat’s finished?” asked Blondie.

Blackie placed the tips of her wings akimbo. “A message to Leee.” 

“Boock?” Silver asked.

“Bock!” said Goldie, who remembered their mother’s messages, Juicy Worms Here and Danger! But she didn’t understand Blackie’s message.

“I’ve almost forgootten how to read chicken scraatch,” Brownie confessed.

“Mee too,” Goldie said.

Silver and Blondie sighed. "Meee too,” 

The five sisters’ eyes met with the same dreadful thought. They shivered for a long while as the sun melted snow into puddles.

“Blaackie,” Brownie consoled, “please come out of the snoow before your toes freeeze.”

Blackie looked down to her message, Greens please, printed in the snow. She didn’t much care if her toes froze. “It was a foolish plaan,” she ceded. “How can Lee understaand my chicken scraatch if you don’t?”

Discouraged to their breastbone, the four hens followed their eldest sister up the ramp and into the henhouse. They moped all morning. They didn’t run out the chute when Lee opened the pen door and saw chicken prints in the snow. They didn’t answer her call.

And when Lee pushed open the yellow door to their house and said, “Good morning, Girls! Why aren’t you outside?” they didn’t have the heart to say.

But when Lee said, “Thanks for your chicken scratch,” and emptied a bag of greens upon the floor, they couldn’t believe their ears and eyes.

And above all surprising things, before she closed the door, Lee said, “Enjoy your snacky poo!”

“Snaaacky poo?” the five hens echoed. What a silly word for greens, they thought, and ate every bit.

The Scent of Butternut Bakery

Iris with Holly of Butternut Bakery, 10 Mile and Van Dyke, Warren, Michigan
Kicking up dusty memories quickens one’s curiosity and hunger. We want to know Who, What, When, Where, Why.
        This Tuesday morning, memory called me to such a quest. I packed a lunch and set my car’s radio on 90.9 FM. My nose pointed south into the blue sky, down the Van Dyke expressway to the Oboe Concerto by Charles Fernandez.
        Beautiful. What more could my heart desire?
        Real people with answers to my questions.
        I stopped my car before 25708 Wagner, my parents’ first mortgage in 1957. I was eight.
        The 900 square foot red brick ranch still has no landscaping to boast. Someone added a wooden porch and stonework to the right of the front door. A two-car garage had replaced Dad’s one car with a patio along the north side—his pride and joy painted white with red trim.
        The same gate that broke off the cap from my front tooth splayed open. No car or tire tracks in the driveway.
        I didn’t ring the doorbell for fear someone would answer. I’d probably ask if they’ve ever peeked into the attic. If so, did they find a trace of my Teddy Bear?
        The white brick house two doors up was the reason for my visit. I couldn’t remember if June and Lou Williams, our only neighbors who didn’t have children, lived two or three doors up.
        What does it matter?
        A lot. Once, Aunt June popped popcorn just for her and me. She taught me to weed around Jack in the Pulpit in her gardens—Paradise in the midst of our naked, new subdivision.
        On I drove south past what was my school for seven years. My sisters and I walked with kids on our block to Wolcott Elementary School. It’s long been some factory with no name on the building.
        I parked in front of the Van Dyke Public Schools Administration building. A woman sat behind a bulletproof window and buzzed in a deliveryman. I smelled popcorn. She apologized for the distraction and eating lunch at her desk.
        “Do you have student records from Wolcott Elementary School? Class composites and report cards?” I asked.
        “No, I’m sorry. All the old records were destroyed.”
        “Destroyed? As if the students and staff never existed?” I caught us both off guard.
        “You can stop by Lincoln High School for your transcripts,” she said.

        As I drove north on Van Dyke, my teenage stomping grounds in Dad’s 1959 Dodge, the taste of a cream donut caught in my throat.
        A spontaneous turn just south of Ten Mile, I walked into a place that had not changed in fifty years. I eyed the cream donut. “How much?”
        “One dollar.”
        Dear Reader, the scent of Butternut Bakery filled my car for the long drive home. I rejoiced that in 1967 the lunch hour donut run fell to the bank employee with least seniority.
        Then, I waited and saved for college tuition. Now, I wait for my high school transcripts. Kick up dusty memories. Savor my comfort food.        

Invasive Species

European starlings feast on our Bradford pear fruit
A snowstorm blew in the black birds last week. Their wings landing upon and about our Bradford pear is an annual spectacle outside my study window.
They’ll flush away at my slightest move, hundreds of wings banking this way and that as if I’m a bird of prey. Why those silly birds choose the worst weather in winter to feed is beyond me.
Several weeks ago when the pear’s leaves dropped, the birds consumed much of the fruit off the branches. I found their acrobatics and dining habits of the large berry amusing, albeit bad manners.
Later, I chanced upon a herd of whitetails when I pulled my car into the driveway one night—another raid due to folk like us who don’t hunt deer and build our homes on their habitat.
Former suburbanites, my husband and I didn’t foresee this consequence of disturbing nature’s balance. Neither did we anticipate cell towers and McMansions that went up on and around our country road.
First, I heard the birds spatting. They flew away when I stood in the window. I waited with my camera and shot some pictures when they flew back. It was high time to identify this bird that dominates the number of our visitors.
Some gathered along the edge of the sidewalk and front porch, fought beak-to-beak for their fair share. Others burrowed in the driven snow for a siesta.
I emailed a close-up shot to Seven Ponds Nature Center.
“European Starlings,” Katie the naturalist said. “The bad news is they’re an invasive species. They sailed in tall ships from Europe.”
I’d heard this last summer when the sparrows plagued our hens with their red mites. The sparrows had killed our bluebirds in their boxes long ago. I’d solved the sparrow-hen problem, but what about the starlings?
“Check with the DNR. They'll have more information about eliminating invasive species,” Katie offered.

When Caleb answered, I explained my dilemma. 
“The Europeans who brought the sparrows and starlings to New York didn’t see the consequences either. They liked the familiar birds from home.”
These transoceanic stowaways grew exponentially to “outcompete native cavity-nesting birds” and also killed our bluebirds. The frustrating reality is there’s “no delete button to zap the invasive species,” as Caleb summarized.
The good news is there's no law in Michigan prohibiting elimination of an invasive species.  Just how do I go about that?
Sawing down our Bradford pear would only deprive our native fowl of what food the starlings didn’t gobble up. This tall ship survivor gone viral would invade another place.
Education and prevention of releasing cargo bearing aggressive and diseased species is the only defense for some trees, plants, and animals—our ash tree, for instance.
Dear Reader, I’ll continue my conversations with Caleb and Seven Ponds because there’s much to learn regarding responsible land management.
Moreover, history and current events reveal the invading human species must want to see the consequences of our destructive devices—consumption of processed foods, opiates, and wireless radiation, to begin.
Otherwise, we continue to pay the consequences of humankind and nature off kilter. There’s no undo key for what we’ve done.
We delete ourselves.

My Grandmother's Love

Iris the bride with sister Linda, Mom, sister Sonia, Granny, sisters Libby & Patty, January 24, 1970
I stood at the bathroom sink and pulled rollers from my hair. Granny appeared at the open door and caught me by surprise. She had helped Mom prepare the dinner for my wedding reception, and should’ve been relaxing.
          Of the Holiness Pentecostal faith, Granny believed a woman’s hair is her glory, never to be shorn. Yet, she stood silent as I backcombed my personalized Sasoon.
I turned and smiled in effort to read her mind. Like my mother, you couldn’t pry a word out of Granny if she didn’t want you to.
When I leaned close to the mirror and applied my eyeliner, she didn’t lecture me about wearing makeup. Rather, her stoic, large figure relieved my anxiety about Dad walking me down the aisle. He wouldn’t cause trouble with Granny sitting next to Mom in the pew.

As I zipped my makeup bag, my childhood summer sentinel balanced her tender and tough love for an immature, oblivious twenty-one-year-old on the brink of matrimony.
Today, on my forty-eighth wedding anniversary, I wonder again whom and what persuaded Granny to leave the comfort of her home in Kentucky and walk into the fallout of my parents’ divorce. What force granted my grandmother the will to travel five hundred miles to Michigan and stitch white brocade over Dad’s military Bible as a base for my bridal bouquet?
I like to think Granny considered that happy summer I was nine-years-old and spent three days alone with her and Poppy Roy. She cut patterns from newspaper and sewed me two matching skirts and blouses, a yellow and blue set.
“School clothes,” she said.
I chose the blue floral print when Poppy drove us to Portsmouth, Ohio, to visit relatives I’d never met. Poppy bought us an ice cream cone on our way home.
Or, on that cold January 24th in 1970, did Granny ponder her wedding day? Ollie Jane Hunt boasted eighteen years when she married James Floyd McCoy, an itinerant teacher of thirty-nine. She bore him eight children in ten years. My mother was the eldest of five who survived to live well into their eighties.
Granny was sixty-eight when she enveloped me in her acceptance in those last hours of single womanhood. My mother, forty-eight.
Decades later, Mom disclosed that Granny hadn’t approved of her marriage in the Presbyterian Church. “Dad walked me down the aisle in his leg braces. I held him up on my arm. It broke my heart when he sat alone in the pew.”
I then understood why Mom sat alone in her pew at Redeemer Baptist Church. My heart broke for her.
My father behaved like a gentleman as we followed my sisters and groomsmen down the aisle—my mother a gracious lady.
Dear Reader, it must've taken severe grace for Granny to hold her tongue in those holy moments by my side. And I’ve forgiven myself for failing to wrap my arms around her with a kiss.
Most likely, if I knew my grandmother's love, buried beneath her convictions, that’s truly what was on her mind.