Know Which Plants You Grow Well

Chanticleer and Henny Penny

Happy New Year, dearest readers. I thought I’d begin 2019 by sharing a favorite story from my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom From the Garden. I do hope you will enjoy.

Know which plants you grow well.

(My love affair with chickens began when I was a small girl living in the undeveloped mountain terrain of Southern California. We lived on a farm, and we had horses, goats and a pen full of chickens, as well as a cat here and there and a cocker spaniel named Cherry. I don’t think we actually owned the dog, but she was often about. One very early photo of me shows me sporting a large ruffled sunbonnet, carrying a small woven basket, full to the brim with chicken eggs, which I had gathered myself.
I was the keeper of the chickens, the one who cared deeply about them. When they managed to scamper through holes in the fence I was the one who would track them down in the orchard, who caught them gently, and lovingly put them back where they belonged in the safety of their pen and flock.)
Simply put, I adore chickens, and, I know the value of a good rooster.
One such rooster was my beloved Chanticleer, whom I first spotted at the bottom of our road in the woods of Northern California. He was a marvelous little Bantam of abundant colors. Reddish browns and dark shimmering greens and iridescent blacks abounded in his full and splendid tail. But he was not alone. Not at all. He had the companionship of a rather scroungy white hen for whom he appeared to be caring. They had set up camp along a stream that emptied into a culvert below the adjacent road, apparently finding plenty to eat in the forest, and sleeping comfortably in trees for safety (or so they thought) at night. No one could account for where they might have come from, and no one really seemed to care. Chickens. What’s the fuss?
All my alarms were going off. Chickens alone in the woods! That can’t be! I bought chicken feed at the local feed store and caught their keen attention by daily tossing them a handful or two, all the while wondering what more I should do. Were they lost? Did they belong to someone? No one seemed to know, or care. I brought down a large wire cage from my property and set it near their little camp, placing corn just in front of the door. Each day I replenished the corn, trying to get them used to the idea that a cage might be a nice place to be.
One such morning I was saddened to see white feathers strewn along the road’s edge and the urgency of my mission heightened dramatically. This day I placed corn inside the cage. Then I tied a white cotton string to the door of the cage and walked several yards away. The little rooster was beside himself. He circled the cage again and again trying to figure out how to get the corn without entering the cage. Finally his hunger won out and he entered the cage and I softly drew the door shut by pulling on my end of the string. Not a happy fellow inside. Now how to get him home? I stood waiting, trusting, and within two minutes a woman I knew pulled up our road. I gave thanks, and flagged her down and she helped me place the cumbersome cage back into my truck and up the hill went my captive rooster to his new (and safe) abode.

Oil painting of Chanticleer by Marge Michael

A rooster. I own a rooster. I bought books, crash coursing on chickens. I learned chicken wire keeps chickens in, not predators out. You really have to lock down chickens at night. What to do?
By day Chanticleer was free to happily roam about the gardens. And when at dusk the wild turkeys alighted in the highest branches of the large pine trees that surrounded our property, taking refuge, I knew it was time for Chanti to go back into his (temporary) cage for the night. Not really knowing him well in regard to whether he would bite, I would shoo him around the garden with my long skirt, holding out the edges trying to direct him where I wanted him. (Where are the Border Collies when you need them?) Usually I won, but on occasion he would escape into a tree and I would have to rest content that probably no predator could get him there, and none did. I invited a young man from 4-H Club to my house and he taught me how to pick him up. Apparently people who work with chickens routinely pick them up by their feet and hold them upside down. And it works. Chickens become very still. (Wouldn’t you?) I personally found it demeaning, but it allowed me to see that Chanti was a good soul, and had no mean intentions. This gave me the courage to actually pick him up each evening, by simply placing my hands over his wings and holding them down to his sides. And thus began the strange chapter of putting him safely inside a small portable dog kennel at night (safe from all wild creatures), which I popped in the back of my closed truck until I rose early and set him free. Safe at last.
Having conquered my fear of my own rooster, I next went shopping for his new companion, our precious Henny Penny, a small brown Bantie hen sporting black and white polka dots, as cute as cute can be. Unfortunately, when I discussed my intentions for her with the feed store guys (always an infinite source of practical information) they warned me not to let the two of them out together! Why not? I asked. “You can’t have just one rooster and one hen! He’ll Wild Thing her to death!” Oh, my.
Eventually I took the chance and apparently Chanti was an old thing (you should have seen his feet) and slightly senile, as he would forget what he was doing half way through his occasional wild dance on Henny Penny’s back and his attention would divert on some tasty worm or bug making its way through the grass. And they would both continue on with whatever they had been doing just prior. They were charming beyond measure as they pecked and scratched their way through the nasturtiums and jasmine and oleander of the front gardens. They never strayed far, they always instinctively stayed under bushes or trees so as not to catch the attention of an overhead hawk or other predator. They dug large cool holes in the soft dirt and sunk their bodies into the damp earth, becoming very still. Occasionally I lost sight of them and I would run outside and call. “Henny Penny, where are you?” And I would hear the gentlest of clucking under a bush here or there, utterly enchanting.
There is great wisdom in the simple knowing what it is you love, that you do well.

May 2019 bring you much joy and many blessings.
Love and New Year’s blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

6 Responses to “Know Which Plants You Grow Well”

  1. I didn’t know I liked chickens until our children got a collection of rare breed chicks as a 4H project. It was such fun to see what they grew into and we developed favorites. I have had chickens ever since. Many people are surprised at how much fun I have with them.

  2. Lovely to hear, Alice! Yes, chickens are delightful! I’m glad you discovered that and continue the tradition! Happy New Year to you! Kathryn xoxo

  3. Lovely story. The painting is precious too. Happy new year!

  4. Too bad I wasn’t around and they could have spent their waning days at my
    chicken care home. I loved rereading the story and it makes me long to have
    some banties again. Happy New Year–see you soon. Lois
    P.S. when does Antonia leave?

  5. Thanks, Antonia! Happy New Year to you, too! Love, Mom xoxo

  6. Good morning, Lois! Glad you enjoyed revisiting this chicken story. I know you love your chickens! I bet Western Farm would have some nice banties. They are so precious. We should plan a trip one sunny day. Happy New Year! Kathryn xoxo

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