death and the equinox
We have had a group of a half dozen chickens, mainly araucanas that we have affectionately dubbed the sicklies. For, that is what they were. Their growth had been stunted, probably through a combination of cold and malnutrition. And, most likely through my own neglect. In a defense it is quite hard to bring two hundred chicks through winter without the use of mother hens. With artificial light and warmth it is neither natural, nor is it something I ever intend to do again. But circumstances insisted, and we obliged.
A smattering of chicks were found dead, on various somber mornings throughout Winter . Most lived. And then these six sicklies; stuck somewhere between life and death. They were suffering --very clearly-- and so I began to intervene. I began to try to save them and then I began to care for them and then I became consumed by them.
Because...I can't not intervene when I see a sick or injured animal. I'm a farming masochist. I attract the dying. Or rather, they attract me. I do what no self-respecting farmer does. I humanize them. I see them grunt and hop to me in the coop and it breaks my heart into five thousand unreasoning pieces. And sometimes these sick and injured turn that proverbial corner and become the Health I've wished and worked for. Like Vangogh and Bella and Rose. They are all animals we could have easily ignored in the field and left to a certain death. And we didn't and you all know how much those three light my life so I needn't justify that here. And sometimes you rescue them and they don't live, like Oscar, but you comfort yourself in knowing that life was better because of that sweet soul and that you wouldn't have been paid a million dollars to not have taken him in from the field...that bloodied mess.
And then there are times like now where you find you are running more hospice than hospital. And then you are faced with questions from your loving partner about What Next To Do. Questions of unnecessary suffering. Questions of the sustainability of care given. Questions of who will take the post as chicken-nurse once we leave (as these sicklies are the farm's chickens and not our own). All this questioning while gently skirting the god complex I had created around the chickens. Now it was Up To Me; whether they live or die. And if they were to die; whether that be gradual through deliberate neglect or sudden through execution. At first I thought I had a choice between the former but I realized with a cold heart it was a choice between the latter. Death this way or that.
Nick offered to kill them. Which, sounds perverse but is one of the kindest things he could do for me. I knew I couldn't break their little necks. I saved one of them, she was the healthiest, which is, of course, all relative being one of the sicklies. But we've named her Spanky.
This sounds cold and cruel, and I thought in writing this I would elicit the emotional response I have come to expect of myself with such things. But a truly new and rather unsettling me is emerging. Surely, I blubbered and stumbled and asked Nick to find me another solution. But at their death I was able to keep in check and not allow myself to think about their little faces and their little souls. I write this, not with pride, nor with peace, just with a vaguely deadened realization that I cannot save every creature that comes to me. That I don't have the space, in my heart nor in my body to help them all. And I, quite honestly, hate that. I am not at peace with this. Yet, I know I need be. I know my past actions cannot be sustained on our future farms. I know I will need to pick the battles more wisely.
So, that sucks. And, that is about as eloquently as I can put it on this beautifully sunny first day of spring.
Posted by kate at 2:29 PM