Every day she cried. They were small, forlorn little warbles. I was surprised she didn’t put up more resistance to be honest, because she was always the most aggressive of the three. Neurotic in many ways. And I wasn’t doing it to be cruel. I felt for her. But it was a hopeless exercise, because she was crying for something that could never be.
What Gertie wanted was to have little chicks. What she didn’t seem to understand was that her eggs were duds. Unfertilised. Devoid of the magic spark that could turn the small calcium carbonate cases into something holding life. So each day I took the eggs, hoping she would snap out of her broodiness until I made a bigger coop. But each day she just kept trying. And crying. And looking for her stolen egg. Despite the fact Gertie is my least favourite hen, my heart simply wasn’t hard enough. Sigh...
Gertie, Frida, and Hilde are all very different in character, and they are lucky, not only because they live free-range on a beautiful mountain, but because their personalities work well together, like chilli, cumin, and salt. This means there’s little or no fighting, because they’re all pretty happy with their place.
Hilde is the most sociable of the lot. Bottom of the pecking order, but top of my affection. She’s surviving on pure charm. Chatty and cheeky, she will happily sit in my arms and be stroked. The others use her as a kind of feathered minesweeper, sending her out first to investigate the forbidden zone of the kitchen, and leaving her on door duty at night. But Hilde doesn’t care, because she's one of those blessed souls who were born happy.
Frida, on the other hand, is the zen hen, and the most intelligent, in my opinion. She’s the quietest and calmest, but by far the most adventurous, always last to enter the coop at night, dawdling evasively down to it each evening, determined to eke out a minute more of freedom. Frida is not really interested in politics or climbing the chicken status ladder, because she’d rather be striding out over the land, discovering new bug zones. I will often find her standing a short way from me, her large chicken eye rolling over me, pondering. “Who is this big caretaker? What’s her story? What does she do?”
And then there’s Gertie. Hmph.
I try not to dislike Gertie, because I know she’s just a hen and probably been traumatised by some mindless ignoramus of a “human.” But she is rather annoying. She scratched me badly on the first day, her talons digging deep into my forearm. Four months of excellent treatment have done infuriatingly little to increase her trust in humankind. Every time she sees me she puffs up her feathers and hisses. But who knows the underlying web of reasons? Perhaps a lifetime of thwarted brooding has turned her sour.
So here we are. August is now closing, which means autumn must be waiting in the wings, and who knows what comes with it. The world is masked and mad (sort of The Durango Kid meets Dr Doom) with quarantine rules flipping so fast, and borders so tenuously open, you can find yourself stranded before you’ve even left your house. The southern half of Spain invaded the north because our Covid stats are (or were) low. The beaches are stuffed because the towns are boring. You can’t get a doctor’s / accountant’s / lawyer’s appointment for love nor money. My publisher closed down. And then in the midst of all this bedlam, my roof permit arrived! The barn gremlin must have enjoyed the notoriety of my last Earth Whispering tale.
All this time Gertie still kept crying for her eggs, relentlessly focused on her goal of motherhood. I looked at her, and then at my overflowing egg pile (because I just can’t keep up with the output). And then I said a quiet, “sod it,” because life is bonkers anyway. What difference will a few little chicks make to anything?
“Hey, have you got five fertilised chicken eggs you can swap with me?” I sent a text to my neighbours up the road.
The next day, I found a bag hanging on my gate with five muddy ova inside. Trotting up to the coop, I pushed them one by one under Gertie’s hot belly. Her eyes widened a little in happiness. She knew. And I chuckled because hey, as I always say, obstinacy will get you a long, long way in this world.
And then all of a sudden the roof came come off. It happened so fast I could hardly take a breath. My big old barn - a structure built almost two centuries ago from the very limestone he squats upon, and that has survived the civil war, sheltered farmers, cows and refugees, and may well even remember Isabella II back in the 19th century - lost his head in two days.
So the chicken coop had to be moved (with Gertie still in it, refusing to budge). Hillocks of tiles and beams and 20-year-old sheeps' wool have now transformed our little world, leaving my hens to clamber around them. Frida always casts a baffled glance at Gertie before striding off into the big green yonder, Hilde chit-chatting behind her. And I’m struck by the incredible array of what can only be described as personality in our world. Whether it’s trees, animals, humans or barns, we are all so beautifully quirky. Each of us different. Each of us unique. Each of us so utterly ourselves. How does life do that? I wonder.
Something weird going on
Many will say this is anthropomorphism of course, yet it isn’t simply a case of imposing our subconscious upon a blank slate of a world. Hilde does talk the most. Gertie is the only one who wants to be a mother. Frida is always the last back in the coop. These are objective facts illustrating clear individuality. But I’m aware I’m also bringing my own layers of experience and imagination to what I’m seeing, painting human faces I know onto chickens or huts.
But there’s something much weirder going on, in my opinion. It’s as though the things I look at start to join in the game, exaggerating the very traits I project onto them. It’s a feedback loop. Hilde knows I like her the most, and just like the puffins on the Isle of Treffin, she plays up to it, sitting on the step, throwing me funny little looks in a way she never used to, and never does with anyone else. Frida too has become ever more Gandalf-like, standing stoically on her rock, studying me, asking the bigger questions (or at least doing a great job of appearing to). Even the barn is into it, his eccentricities now laid bare, he looks more gnome-like than ever. And because I see that character in him, I too work with it, enhance it, and highlight it.
This myriad of character in the world around us is exactly why black and white rules, mindless administrative systems, the majority of 'education' facilities, and factory farms are so unnatural. There’s no place for personality within them. They can’t cope with the tiniest quirks, and actively seek to obliterate them. Unlike in the natural world, difference is the enemy. Yet simultaneously, this is why Gaia and questioning humans will always win in the end, (though for those that seem incapable of questioning, I'm not so sure). Because there’s something far more profound going on below the surface than the 3D world of tech and logic will ever understand. The soul of life is so creatively genius and untrappable, it has found a way around the rules before they’re even laid down.
This is why I'm leaving a fat slab of the worry behind. The machine is only ever that. We, on the other hand, are both gods and their children simultaneously. Systems, robots, and old control mechanisms are no match for the intelligence and power of this planet; to think otherwise is sheer old school arrogance. Take a look around, Gaia is only just getting started here, and if we pause from fear long enough to hear her, she’ll tell us where to step next. Each of us is a cell in her body, a finger on her hand, a side of her personality, extraordinarily and unpredictably unique, and thus impossible to second guess.
Good luck old paradigm, I say. You’re going to need it, because life is moving far beyond you right now.
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Atulya K Bingham
Author, Lone Off-Gridder, and Natural Builder.
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.