Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A day in the life


My only regret was the chapstick.

The paint on the new crates is still the slightest bit tacky and even though small amounts of the rusty red paint transferred to my once-white leather gloves we don’t have much time to sit around waiting for paint to dry. We load up the birds into the crates and pack them away in the Trooper. They pant in the late afternoon heat, unaccustomed to such close quarters but should cool down once we start moving and the breeze fills the vehicle.

I dash inside for a last minute pee break and to fill my water bottle. Content that I have thoroughly reviewed my mental checklist before we go, I slam the front door and head towards my waiting chariot. The Trooper rattles off a constant smoker’s cough the way only a diesel can. As I walk across the front lawn I take a quick sip of water, then pull my Carmex from my pocket and slather a thick coating on my parched lips, split from sunburn.

“Ready to go?” Nathan asks.


We are getting ready to take our broilers to market. This has been a difficult step for me, relinquishing control. I would much prefer to process the birds myself but with the expansion of our CSA and the increased meat demand, we have agreed to try a processor several hours away to cut down on the labor of doing it ourselves. Whether I do the deed myself or someone else does, I know that the birds have had happy, healthy lives right up to the end and that is what is most important to me in this day of industrialized agriculture.

As I hop into the vehicle I notice there is already a distinct aroma brewing inside – the lingering smell of lacquer mingling with chicken poo. I was prepared for the smell. It’s not like it is a new smell, just a bit more up-close and personal than I am used to in my daily routine.

When we told folks that we were going to take to Trooper to haul the birds, most of them had a hearty chuckled and asked knowingly, “but what about the smell?” as if they were letting us in on some previously overlooked, immensely important tidbit. The rest simply replied with a quiet, “Oh...” and a sly smile – they were going to let us learn that life lesson on our own.

We don’t pass out from the smell. It just smelled like chickens. I don’t see what was the big deal, we just opened the windows.

It was when we picked up speed and started bumping down the driveway that we were confronted with an actual “previously overlooked, immensely important tidbit”. Feathers.

With the windows rolled down, an air current formed inside the vehicle. One that would sweep by the chicken crates picking up feathers and chicken dander (and I don’t want to think about what else) and then whirl it to the front seat and sprinkle it all over us. My sunglasses were a dream as they held back most of the feathered onslaught destined for my already watery, allergy eyes. For a while, a small vortex formed between me and the windshield with a single white feather dancing in the breeze. Just about the time I would flinch as it careened towards my face, it would drop down towards my lap and be picked up by the current again.

Where the sunglasses were the ultimate savior, I realized instantly that the chapstick was definitely a poor decision. I tried to wipe it off on the inside of my shirt but my lips were still tacky enough to encourage adherence of “chicken sprinkles”. I sucked in my lips as if mimicking an old grannie wondering where she placed her dentures.

As we reach the “T” in the road I glance down at my black pants, littered with drifts of dander usually only reserved for pre-job interview nightmares. For some reason, it is this image that causes the thought to pop into my head, “I think I am at a critical turning point in my life. This is one of those moments where your reaction defines who you are, what your life is going to be like”.

I glance nervously towards Nathan. He is absently twirling his beard between his fingers and bobbing his head ever so slightly. Must be humming along to a song in his head, the radio does not work well and could not be heard above the road noise anyway. A single downy feather is lodged in his sideburn.

At first I am not sure how I feel about the awkward timing of this mental breakthrough. One expects these things to occur at cosmic events like watching a shooting star, an amazing sunset, the sheer awe of the power of the natural world.

I query myself on my response this turning point.

Am I aghast at being subjected to this uncivilized injustice?
Do I want to be let off? It is still close enough to the house that I could walk home.
Am I mad that we didn’t do things my way and process the birds at home?
Have I closed off and retreated into my head?
Am I sullen about what my life has become?
Am I embarrassed to be such a country bumpkin?
Am I resentful about all the difficult, yet unseen things we do for our customers? We won’t even get to eat these chickens after all this.

With a blank stare, I look out my window at all the juniper and sage racing by the window. “Remember that story about Nana and Papa taking chickens to town?” I ask Nathan.

“Yeah, they took them in grain sacks in the back of the station wagon and the birds jumped and flopped around the whole way.”

With a big smile I turn to him and say, “well one day when we have kids and grandkids of our own, we will have a story that tops that tale”.

With a huge grin and a hearty laugh he takes my hand into his own and we continue our journey bumping along the gravel road.


Rachel Mills said...

I immediately identified with your words. You put them so beautifully. This post really touched me Katia. I hope you know how much we appreciate the fruits of your labor (including Nathan and Lloyd). It is always on my mind when we pray over our meals :)

Katia said...

That is so sweet. Thanks a bunch Rachel. We really love what we do and it makes a huge difference on those hard days to be able to recall the faces of the families that will sit down together and be nourished by the fruits of our labor.

Kate said...

Made me laugh and then made me cry - thank you for sharing your stories!

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