One of our chickens decided to die on Christmas, in front of us all, while we were outside playing with some of my son’s new toys. She snapped her neck between some fence slats, first pecking at something in the flower garden, then jumping too quickly as if startled. Terry caught her gently as she struggled unsuccessfully to stand. I held her upside-down to make her pass out, she never awakened.
Violette was my favorite hen. Assertive, inquisitive, she was proof that Cuckoo Maran’s were the breed to pursue. The flock leader, I expected her to live the longest. We laid her to rest up by the lavenders. I was set to pluck her and make stock, Terry and Tadg weren’t ready for that, not on Christmas.
Walking up to her burial site I discovered why the coyotes had been celebrating in such large numbers just the night before. They’d chewed through irrigation line attached to a timer for our orchard of saplings. We’re months past the time the rains should have begun, the nearest creek has become a picturesque trail you could drive a jeep down without getting the tires wet.
The coyotes were celebrating their survival, calling out to all members of their pack that they’d discovered water, that they might all live one more season. Judging from the marks along the line it was a desperate group effort. I hope the two hours the timer ran was enough for them to drink their fill.
I journeyed about Violette to the spirit of the land and received some insight, but was left with the understanding that the machinations of this place may always lay beyond my ken. Her death felt like an offering. On the most celebratory day of the year she gave herself to us to harvest her for meat. If it was meant as a gift, we weren’t really ready to fully receive it. I asked the spirits to understand our limits here, and to help us see this in the best light.
That night at dinner we talked about her. Tadg hoped she wasn’t really dead, only a little dead, and might come back soon. We shared how grateful we were for her eggs and her presence, and how beautiful she was. We mourned when other peoples might have celebrated the gesture and even dined on her.
Today I danced near Violettes grave. Terry and Tadg set out a bowl of water for the coyotes beneath a slow drip, then I fixed the main line to the trees. Another thing we talked about at dinner was how important it was to remember that we work with the land not only to feed us, but to feed all life here. We want to encourage the forest, the coyotes, the birds, all of it to develop greater vitality. Somehow Violettes death brought that truth home for me. She was now forever a part of this place. Her mark would outlast our lives.
After three and a half years, I feel like we’ve finally really arrived here. We’re being asked to learn the language of this place, to really start understanding what life here is about. When we start making sure the coyotes have water, and understand that our chickens offer themselves up to us for food, we’re starting to participate in a good way.
This year the land took and gave in ways we didn’t expect. Its really an invitation to us, to sink deeper into the soil and allow this dance to carry us further.