“Who’s Chicken”

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“Who’s Chicken”

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

It’s been more than ten years since I’ve spent July in Houston. This summer, due to the pandemic and the extra push to High Holy Days by livestream, Houston is our “staycation” destination. I can’t say Houston is pretty or pleasant in July, because it’s downright hot and humid. But, there are some highlights to note.

For example, I had no idea that our crepe myrtles in the front yard bloomed so beautifully. By this time in July, we were usually in Colorado. It’s nice to see them thrive while everything around them wilts in the heat, including me.   

You also might not know that my wife, Lisa, grew up in Tucson, and always had an interest in animals. Her childhood home in Tucson, still attracts a variety of creatures into the yard, including quail, roadrunners, field mice, snakes, and the occasional boar. Long ago, while visiting there, I learned to look around outside the door before leaving the house. Today, our urban existence in Bellaire, doesn’t include the possibility that we might be visited by any of these animals. We see an occasional possum and lots of squirrels, but nothing quite like Tucson’s menagerie.

But, then again, anything is possible. And, that’s what happened a few weeks ago when Lisa drew on childhood memories and welcomed two hens into our backyard in Bellaire. Not roosters that “cock-a-doodle-doo,” as they seem to say, but two egg-laying, ground-scratching, “balk-balk” clucking chickens. They came with a chicken coop and a small load of assorted food and instructions. How did I take it? To borrow an apt expression, I was as mad as a wet hen. I didn’t run around like a chicken with its head cut off, but I didn’t chicken out of the experience, either.  

When Lisa left town to see our grandson, I was left holding the bag of feed and the care of the two chickens that I named “Light Meat” and “Dark Meat”. One is darker than the other and is also at the top of their two-tier pecking order. My routine begins in the morning when I free them from their coop. With fresh food and water, they follow me to their feeding trays and begin, what will be for them, a full day of pecking and scratching. At about 10:00am, I return to the coop to lift the lid over their nesting boxes to find their raison d’etre, their reason for being; two fresh eggs, one each, every day. They’re brown and warm. With gratitude, I turn and say to them on my way back to the house, “Thank you, girls. See you this afternoon.” I next meet them around 2pm, after my midday coffee break. With fresh fruit or other treats, they follow me from the back door to their feeding trays to peck at watermelon, tomatoes, and other scraps. Finally, at around 7:30pm, after a long and tedious day, they walk themselves into their coop for a seat on their perch. I lock them in so other animals won’t bother them, and there they sleep.

The pattern repeats itself each day, just like every day has done since mid-March. Only now I have fresh eggs and they are (don’t tell the chickens) delicious. I’ve given some away to our gardener and to other service people who come to the house. Their production isn’t fast enough to feed the congregation, but if you know anything about chickens that I haven’t learned about on YouTube, please send your chicken-plucking (said figuratively) advice to me.

Lisa will be back soon. My promise to her is that, while she’s gone, I won’t use the outdoor grill that was moved to make room for the coop, if you get my drift. Now, why on earth would I do that when I get fresh eggs? But, looking ahead to the High Holy Days, I might renew the traditional act of “schlagen kappores” (look it up). It might be what chickens in the yard foretold about what this year needs to rid us of all the “tsuris” in our world, today. Or maybe I’ll just gather the eggs another day.    

From my family farm to yours, Shabbat Shalom,