Yesterday morning at breakfast I tried to spoon some rice porridge into two-year-old Laszlo’s mouth as he pretended to be an airplane. His mother Atma turned to me and said, “I have great news for you, Rebecca. You are in charge of the chickens this month.”
We practice karma yoga daily, which is service. Eventually, the goal is to see work as worship. We garden, clean, prepare food…and tend chickens.
I have mixed feelings about birds. As a young girl, my mother encouraged me to join 4-H – the agricultural club. I raised chickens and showed them at the San Mateo County Fair. They were Bantams, small fluffy birds with personality. One night, I forgot to lock them in their cage and they were ravaged by a coyote or raccoon. My brother Andrew had to clean up their remains.
I also had pigeons. When I put my hand in their cage to feed them, they would attack me. Once I let them out to fly free because I felt for their captivity. One never returned and the other came back with one leg.
As I mentioned, birds are not really my bag. It was with, what should I call it – oh yes, dread, that I approached the chicken coops that morning with an older woman named Linda, my predecessor. She showed me how to reach in and gather eggs. As soon as I did, there was much flapping and squawking – all I could see were beaks and beady little eyes. I slammed down the flap and looked over at her.
Linda is a Kiwi. She speaks like one. I thought she was mentioning something about lesbians. “No, LESSER BEINGS,” she yelled, as if volume could compensate for our language issues.
We stopped laughing long enough to put on gloves and clean out the disgusting nests, filling them with new straw. We fed them from the bucket of table scraps kept for that purpose. I used Atma’s husband Prasad’s axe to smash up shells to scatter in the coops as well. Did you know, if chickens don’t peck grit, they won’t be able to produce eggshells? Fascinating.
Linda flew to Australia this morning to care for her son, who is ill. She left me a note. Here is part:
Rebecca, dear lady,
Atma has not so much given you a task, as a blessing, if you choose to see it thus. Bhuta yajna – the offering of food to the animal kingdom, fulfills man’s obligation to lesser beings, or less evolved forms of creation. It reinforces man’s need to succor the weak, as he in turn is comforted by higher unseen beings.
May you gain much growth and satisfaction from this course. Blessings, Linda
P.S. Don’t forget to close the hen hatches at darktime. (!!)