“How many do you intend to get?” I'm often asked by those surprised to learn we are still acquiring chickens. An honest answer would presuppose an actual plan…which we have never had. There are space limitations, of course – our coops do have a maximum capacity which we are rapidly bumping into – but there is no plan. The truth is that we discover yet another stunningly beautiful breed and order a couple. OK, to be more confessionally honest, “I order a couple.” Lori, who has settled into a kind of acquiescent poultrified numbness on the subject, should not be held accountable for our growing population.
But seriously, what is a novice flockster to do? I had no idea there was such a stunning variety. It's common, I know, to pick a breed and go with it, but if I settled on the Ameraucanas how could I do without the Silver Laced Wyandottes? If I focused in on the loveable Buff Orpingtons I would completely miss out on the brush-stroked grandeur of the Buff Brahmas that arrived just this week. I have the same problem thumbing through chicken catalogues as I do with seed catalogues when browsing for the garden. Everything is irresistible. I want a little of it all.
It's easily managed in the chicken yard. The 11 or so breeds sharing that space co-mingle perfectly well – far better, in fact, than most neighborhoods I've lived in. They are all different colors and sizes, laying brown eggs and blue eggs and speckled eggs, but they share the same feeders and waterers and nesting boxes, and sleep happily side-by-side.
The garden is a little more complicated. I've planted close to 100 different varieties – from asparagus to zebra tomatoes, with all manner of alliums, brassicas, squashes and beans in between. And I am fully aware that it's madness. Each of those vegetable families has unique growing requirements – pH levels, moisture and nutrition requirements, and soil type preferences to name but a few – and there is no way my little quarter acre plot, coupled with my inexperience, can satisfy them all.
But I want them all, and I give each of them a try. With your eyes closed you may not be able to taste the difference between a Watermelon Radish and an Easter Egg Radish, but open your eyes and the world begins to dance.
The problem is neither gluttony nor greed. The problem is appreciative awe. The diversity is simply too beautiful to abbreviate or edit.
There was a time at the church I used to serve when the building was animated by an African congregation worshipping on the fifth floor, English language classes serving diverse refugees on the third floor, a congregation on the second floor whose members had been so socially bludgeoned and ostracized by churches in the past because of their sexual orientation that years went by before they would speak when passing in the halls, a Mennonite congregation in another part of the building, and our own mostly white, middle-class congregation. I always felt like the elevator lobbies were the most interesting places in the building – those small holding spaces where we all, a cacophony of diversity, intersected.
I just can't muster any interest in, or appreciation for, mono-crops, whether they are in the chicken yard, the garden, or the church. Which I suppose accounts for the bewildered sadness and dismay I feel at yet another mass killing by yet another anxious soul disquieted by the need for homogeneity. Left to his narrowing ambitions the beautiful complexity and diversity of the world would eventually be edited down to a stultifying sameness – a monocrop of humanity as monotonous and prone to devastation as the vast fields of corn blanketing the state; as odiferous as the giant hog confinements fouling the countryside.
We often verbally wonder if we will ever learn to live with one another. I'm more haunted by the opposite question: How could we possibly live without each other?
The farms and their fence-rows to fence-rows of sameness might be silent on the subject, but if we had a mind to listen, our gardens could teach us some things about diversity.
The gardens and, of course, the chickens.