Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Never Underestimate a Determined Chicken
The Pull of Freedom

The past year could be subtitled "Adventures With Chickens". Our chickens even graced our Christmas letter this year, festively adorned with Santa hats. A year ago in March, we went to our local Feed-n-Seed store for some guinea pig supplies and ended up coming home with six fluffy and adorable peeping chicks. They lived in our garage for awhile, then in a mobile "chicken tractor" in the backyard, and eventually my DH built them "The Poultry Palace", a lovely shed on our back property with perches and nesting boxes and a big fenced yard - all a chicken could want or need. One would think.

The chickens think otherwise. They'd like to come into our backyard, scratch through all of our bark mulch, scatter it over 90% of our lawn (killing the grass in the process), tear up the black weed barrier underneath and scatter shreds of that everywhere, basically turning a landscaped back yard into a scene of utter destruction. Then they'd love to move on to the front yard, our neighbor's gardens, vegetable plots, and beyond. They're amazingly adept at outsmarting me, squeezing through the tiniest chink in the fence, or lately they've taken to scratching at the ground underneath the fence until they've made a hollow big enough to crawl through. I've piled up our brush clippings into these hollows as a stop-gap measure, but they'll patiently peck at them until they've hauled all the branches out and gotten through. It's impressive, really. A creature with a brain the size of a pea, a creature completely capable of living almost the same existence with no head as they lived with one (see Mike the Headless Chicken if you don't believe me). That such a creature keeps outsmarting me... well, it's a bit embarassing.

But of course, they will never give up. Even though they've got a big fenced area with everything they'd ever need inside it, it's still a cage and freedom waits beyond it. The drive for freedom is huge. So many of the world's big events have turned on it. From Masada to Captain Jack's Modoc holdout, the American Revolution, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, people throughout history have fought dearly for their freedom.

So when people talk of school reform - of how better computers or higher teacher pay or newer buildings or different curriculums will solve the current problems of our "educational" system, I think that they're missing the essential lesson that all peoples who have tried to hold others in subjugation have learned. Without freedom, even the most lush and beautiful reservation would be a prison. Without freedom, even if East Berlin was the most wonderful city on earth, it would've been a prison. A person (or even a chicken!) who is imprisoned bends their thoughts toward freedom, and that bending precludes most of what could be taught or learned if that freedom was theirs. When children learn in freedom, their lives and their learning belongs to them and they cherish and nurture that learning. Nothing gets in the way.

Our chickens will spend all day plucking away at the brush that plugs the holes separating them from the rest of the world outside their fence. Even if that means they spend less time doing the more important tasks of finding bugs and worms to eat. The freedom is too tantalizing, too distracting to ignore.

I wish I could give our chickens the freedom to explore the whole world (without sacrificing our neighbors' gardens). Thankfully, that's a gift we can give our children.


Danielle said...


Having spent the past month figuring out how to keep the chickens in the pasture along with the goats only to have the goats get stuck in the chicken run while the letting the chickens out to roam free, I can totally relate to the "outsmarting" issue. Hmmmm, 2 Ph.Ds here versus 10 pea-size chicken brains, and who's winning? ;)

Goat fencing all around has finally done the trick. All except for Goldy, who really is a people chicken and refuses to be deterred in her quest for the house. One chicken, we can live with, and so we've declared it a success.

Robin said...

That's so funny, because Goldy is our chicken who is the people chicken. She comes up to us and basically asks to be picked up and petted. She used to lay her eggs in our vent by the side of the house.

Schuyler said...

One of my favorite songs at the minute (well, for a bit longer than a minute) is by The Bills. I's called Let 'em Run. You can see the video here: http://thebills.ca/video/thebills_letemrun_video_med.mov

Anyhow, that's what your post reminded me of.