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When The Dark Comes Calling

It has been an interesting year in many ways. How redundant for me to start that way. Every year is interesting and brings learning, loss, newness, hellos, epiphany and more.  Death is on my mind right now because there is always so much of it. It is the only thing that is certain and we all share it, from the tiniest microorganism to the biggest forest to the longest living things… we all die.

On our farm we see it unexpectedly when a hawk comes hurling from the sky and flies away with a chicken in its claws, leaving a skewed pile of feathers as the only remains. We see it in our field, where the incessant rains have carried away our crops for the second year in a row. We see it in our lives too, with a startling phone call or a neighbor stopping by as they go by the house.

July begins with excitement. Summer is in full swing. Patriotism is winding up for the annual grand display with fireworks, grilled food, much flag waving and gratitude. Then it begins with a phone call and suddenly Candace has lost a brother and I a brother-in-law. Just a few days later and a friend I have known since I was a young teen has passed just as unexpectedly. He was part of my second family growing up and was the closest thing I could have had to a brother at that time. Even though I had not seen either of them in some time I am transported to times when we were younger, remembering times both good and bad. How did the time pass so quickly?

Time. Another phone call only days later. Our social circle is cracked to pieces as word spreads of the death of a friend. Young. Gentle. Caring. Surgery and recovery gone horribly, inexplicably wrong and a true light is snuffed out. The grief is palpable now. I can taste it and I am filled with sorrow and rage. How. Can. This. Happen.

I remember my 20s, 30s, 40s, and feeling like I had so much time. I was wrong.

Now it is September and my neighbor Bill and friend Ruth have both passed and I find myself in tears at random moments… when I am digging in the garden, or folding laundry. When the phone rings I cringe and wonder who else has passed, what more has gone wrong.

Death is not the only darkness… people disappear from out lives for many reasons and in many ways, some leaving me dumbfounded, some leaving me broken, all breaking a piece of me away to roll to a dusty corner. A loud voice tells me to flee, to hide, to keep all away, to build a wall to protect me from the pain of goodbye… from the pain of silence when the words don’t come and I am left with only questions.

Some days like today, the darkness is calling to me from my past, from moments in time that linger like flies over carrion. Today, when nothing makes sense and trust has a bitter taste that I spit out and grind into the dirt with worn wet sneakers. Where do we go when the darkness comes, when we feel that hand on our shoulder, know what it is, and not want to turn to see it. Where do we go when everything stops and all that is good and right and sure drains away like the blood drains, crimson and thick from a deep wound. When the dark comes calling, like fear, uncertainty, or a speeding train…. where do we go. Where do I go. What do I do now.

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Which came first…?

Spring is coming. The land doesn’t show it, the air doesn’t feel it but the time is passing and the days are slowly getting longer as the sun comes closer in her orbit. The ground is still cold and hard but the farmers are turning the winter grass over in preparation for planting. It is too cold to smell the dirt. Spring has a way to go before I will be convinced when I step outside. Inside though, things are a bit clearer.

When I got up this morning, the wood stove was full of embers, glowing red chunks  pushing their heat toward me as I slowly open the door. It feels good as I place two pieces of wood to bring the fire back up to warm the house through the morning. The wind has been blowing for days, and the stove needs more attention in these times. It seems that the cold wind reaches down the pipe to beacon the fire to burn faster and hotter. It does. I don’t mind a cooler home. I am more comfortable in the cool but I have other things to consider besides myself. You see, Spring has arrived in the next room.

In the dining room the furniture is pushed aside to accommodate a brooder. A brooder is like a well heated day care for baby chickens. We use a special heat lamp clipped to the side to keep them warm like their mothers body would. This plastic storage container is their first home and I imagine it is quite confusing to these tiny babies, but they bond with each  other and with us and with a little coaxing they learn to eat and drink and soon begin to grow from tiny, boney balls of soft fluff to feather covered birds. The transformation is extraordinary.

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We have ten chicks in the brooder and we purchased them from two different local farmers to expand our flock with breeds that we want to raise. There are many different breeds of chicken and all are different in size, look, disposition and egg laying capability. Some are less common and some are highly sought after based on what they offer. We enjoy offering eggs for sale, so we like hens who lay big colorful eggs. Colorful. That is a word that you may not think of if you buy your eggs at the local supermarket. Their offerings are white and sometimes brown but the true spectrum is broad and interesting.

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Those are real colors. Chickens are amazing creatures.

We also have an incubator that has been home to 24 eggs for the last 21 days and we are watching and waiting for the first baby to “pip”. The pip is the first crack or hole that the chick makes in its attempt to begin the hatching process. They each have a tiny “egg tooth” on the tip of their beak to help them cut a circle around one end of the egg so that they can stretch and pop the egg open. This is how they begin life, and once they are hatched and drying the tiny egg tooth falls off without leaving a trace. Each baby works hard  to be born and once dry seem huge compared to the egg  they were in, but I digress…

Chickens, if nothing else, are predictable, and the gestation period for the eggs is 21 days, even though they lay a clutch of eggs over a period of days, they all hatch rather close together, with our experience being less than 24 hours from start to finish each time we have hatched them. This time, however, is not going quite like that. These eggs were purchased from a local farmer, a perfectly lovely man who raises chickens for eggs as we do, as well as selling some to other back yard farmers to hatch. The eggs are big and pretty and healthy in appearance, and that is why we are concerned today. There are no pips yet. There should be pips but there are none on day twenty two and tonight we will open one egg to see if we can determine what is happening and why. There are a million things that can go wrong during gestation when a hen is sitting her clutch… and just as many in an incubator. Seldom do all the eggs hatch. It is just part of the process, but when 24 eggs don’t hatch or show signs of hatching on the 22nd day, I feel a sense of doom. My hope is that they are simply late bloomers, and tomorrow will be full of life and excitement, photographs and phone calls. For now, we will just have to wait and see.