“Just Farm Animals” (Part 1)

Just Farm Amimals

Evenings spent with my chickens are the best part of almost any day. We share a treat of some fresh fruit and recount the day’s events or simply discuss whatever is on our minds.

“So Gracie, what is the best thing about being a chicken?”

“Well, I guess the best thing about being a chicken is being a chicken.”

She clucked at her cleverness.

“Chickens get to hunt for worms. I love the joy and anticipation of running with a worm I’ve just found. What is the best thing about being a person?”

“That is a tough question.”

“And you can’t just say ‘the best thing about being a person is being a person.’ You would just be copying me!”

“The best thing about being a person is watching chickens running with a worm they just found. That’s not really copying you, is it? Gracie, you are certainly in a fun mood today.”

“I guess so. Maybe not. But don’t change the subject. I do think it’s a good question even though the answer can’t change anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if it is the best, it is at the top. You can’t get any better. Ask about what is the worst. Then you have something to work on. You can get better then.”

“I see what you mean. So what is the worst thing about being a chicken?”

“Sometimes we care about people, but they don’t care about us,” she said without hesitating.

“I think that may be the worst thing about being a person too. When other people don’t care about you.”

We looked off together towards the part of the yard that had gotten overgrown over the years. It made a nice place for traveling birds like starlings and crows and thrushes to stop and rest as they came through our neighborhood, but we didn’t see any just then.

I enjoyed moments like this when Gracie and I shared things in common like how important is was to know we are cared for.

“After all, we are just farm animals,” she muttered. “Just farm animals.”

Our moment of connectedness was broken.

She looked down at the ground searching for nothing in particular, and then she moved as if to get up.

My Life With Gracie taught me words can make everything in our world change in an instant.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. This post felt too long, and so it is divided into two parts. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Emily’s Summer Drawing Camp (Part 2)

Emily's Summer Drawing Camp

This story may become part of the book I hope to write about Amelia’s journey to find out if she can be lost but not afraid. It is a continuation of the last part I shared here. With chickens, anything can happen.

“I want to draw Amelia,” she repeated more emphatically. Emily seemed startled by her own boldness. “You will teach me, won’t you?”

“There is nothing I would rather do,” I said.

Just like that, Emily’s Summer Drawing Camp began. Over the next few days, we looked at shapes and drew shapes.

There was the oval of an egg when you looked at it one way, and the circle of an egg when you looked at it another way. Emily thought this was fascinating. “One egg, but not one shape. I lay eggs all the time, but I never noticed that.”

“You’ve just discovered one of the biggest secrets of drawing. Look and study and look again. There are a lot of people who have never been to Summer Drawing Camp like you. Even so, they can tell whether something looks right or wrong, but they can’t tell you what it is or why. That is what you are learning to do.”

Worms from the garden were one of her most favorite subjects. These were difficult for her to draw because they kept moving, and she had to resist the urge to eat them.

“I love studying these shapes!”

“I thought you would,” I said as she was gobbling down her last worm model.

“Did you know chickens change shapes all the time? You make different shapes when you stretch out your necks or tuck them in close, when you fluff out your feathers, when you walk, and when you fly.”

“I will need to study those things if I’m going to draw Amelia, won’t I?”

So Gracie became our first drawing model. She would get up on a crate and make a ballet pose for Emily to draw. Gracie would hold still in the dance pose for as long as she could. It was great practice for both of them.

Then Pearl took over as our drawing model because Pearl hardly ever stands still. We watched Pearl do silly walks back and forth, and then Emily drew what she remembered.

Sometimes she remembered very well, and other times not so well. But the main thing was drawing the silly part correctly because that made it a drawing of Pearl. If she didn’t get the silly part right, Emily would add other details such as barred markings on the feathers to make the drawing look like Amelia.

One day before starting, Emily asked, “Is it true what you wrote in the book about friendship? Is it true drawing lets you do things you would never be able to do any other way?”

“Yes, that’s true. At least, I believe it’s true. Not everything is true just because you believe it, but there are some things that are true whether you believe or not.”

“I want to make a drawing of Amelia and me flying together in the sky.”

We had been practicing with just the old box of white chalk from the workbench, but I wanted this drawing of Amelia and Emily to be special. I found a box of colored chalk, and Emily began creating.

She worked carefully without saying a word. Her concentration was intense.

Finally she said, “I’m ready.”

This was not what I had expected to hear, not yet. She had only drawn Amelia flying in the sky. She had not drawn herself. This was not a drawing of Amelia and Emily flying together in the sky.

Maybe she was too embarrassed to tell me she wasn’t sure how to draw herself.

“Do you need anything else? Like maybe a mirror?” I asked.

“I’m ready now,” she said impatiently. “Let’s prop it up against the workbench like we always do.”

As soon as her drawing was in place for us to look at, she stood beside it, closed her eyes, and then she opened them again. She closed her eyes for a bit longer, and then she opened them again. The third time, she closed her eyes and kept them closed.

Slowly her wings began to stretch out until they were fully extended.

She trembled with excitement.

Her eyes opened wide, but she wasn’t seeing the garage or me. It was as if all she saw was sky and Amelia beside her, the moon above her, and the fields and forests and rivers below them.

She swayed from side to side as if being carried along by winds high into the sky above.

She looked to her right, then began opening and closing her beak. No sound or words came out, but I knew she was calling to Amelia. She was saying how delightful everything looked when they were flying up high together.

I am unsure how long I sat there on the garage floor watching Emily, but I didn’t dare speak or move. She had not been so happy for the longest time.

Suddenly Emily did several strong, fast wing flaps as if she was landing. She blinked her eyes, tucked her wings close to her sides, and looked at me.

“I was flying with Amelia,” she said. “Just like you said would happen.”

This was not what I had meant about drawing and believing, but it didn’t matter.

“I know you were, Sweetie. I know. That’s why you said you were ready. That’s why you didn’t draw yourself with chalk like you drew Amelia, isn’t it?”

“It was all so beautiful, and seeing Amelia was the most beautiful part of all.”

She hopped into my lap and sat down.

“It’s good to be back home,” she said as she rested her head against me.

“It’s good to have you back home.”

My Life With Gracie (and especially Emily) showed me drawing lets you do things you would never be able to do any other way.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Emily’s Summer Drawing Camp (Part 1)

Emily's Summer Drawing Camp

This story may become part of the book I hope to write about Amelia’s journey to find out if she can be lost but not afraid. It is a “fast forward” from the last part I shared here with you. Writing from a first person point of view as I do, I can’t go on the trip with her. This leaves Emily and me here at home. But it also provides a chance for Emily to explore and grow without leaving home.

Amelia had been gone for some time, longer than expected. Early spring had turned to early summer.

It was a lazy kind of Sunday afternoon, and I had decided to clean out part of the garage. I had asked Emily if she wanted to come and watch, but she didn’t seem interested. She still missed Amelia very much.

Eventually Emily wandered in and flew up to the highest thing stacked on my workbench. It was a safe spot out of the way where she would have a chance to see all that was there. And there was a lot there.

“What is that?” Emily asked. “It know that smell, but not that shape.”

“I’m not sure what you mean. There’s a lot of stuff on this workbench.”

She hopped down from her perching spot and pecked to point at a yellow and red box.

“Oh, that’s chalk. You use it to make marks on things.”

“Chickens are very good at making marks. Can I look at it? I won’t mess it up. I promise.”

“Sure, and even if you do mess it up, it’s okay because I don’t need it any more.”

Emily pulled out a piece of chalk. It was just a little short stub of a piece. She looked worried.

“It’s okay, You didn’t mess it up. And even if you did, it breaks really easily anyway.”

“This tastes like oyster shells. Just like you put in our dry food.”

“Yes, chalk is made out of seashells too. Do you know why I put oyster shells in your dry food?”

“No. Why?”

“It’s so you’ll have enough calcium when you make your eggs. The same thing that’s on the outside of the eggs you lay is in the oyster shells and in the chalk.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Your little body is amazing, isn’t it?”

“The chalk is white, and the oyster shell is white. But my eggs are brown. Why is that?”

“Well they are only brown on the outside. Underneath the brown, they are white.”

“So how does that brown get there on the outside?”

I looked around the garage and found an old can of spray paint. When I shook it up, the little ball inside rattled. Emily was fascinated with this.

“Is that thing rattling around in there something to eat?”

“No. And it wouldn’t taste very good either if you tried.”

“Does it make that sound because it has an egg inside?”

“Not exactly. It’s a little ball.”

“You aren’t going to shake me up are you?” she asked in a silly kind of way, knowing that would never happen.

I found a scrap of wood. “Let’s go outside. We don’t want to use this inside.”

I sprayed the wood with the paint. “Sort of like this. See.” Where the wood had been a pale sandy color, it was now brown.

She examined it closely and shook her head because the paint fumes smelled strange, even outside.

“I don’t like that. I don’t have one of those cans in me. Do I?”

“No, Sweetie, you don’t. You just have something in you that paints pretty brown pigment on your eggs before you lay them. It just sort of works like the can with the ball inside.”

“Pig mint? Like a plant pigs eat?”

“Emily, you are so much fun. ‘Pig mint’ is two words. ‘Pigment’ is one word. It means tiny little pieces of color.”

“I see. Can I have it? The chalk I mean, not the smelly can of pigment. If you don’t want it?”

“Of course you can. And I will find some paper for you to draw on too.”

She looked far away into the sky and then up into my eyes. “Will you draw with me?”

I could clean the garage another day. I could make phone calls and read books and do plenty of other things another day. But how many days does a person get to draw with a chicken, especially a chicken as special as Emily?

I found some colorful paper stored in a portfolio up in the loft part of the garage. Then Emily and I sat down on the cool concrete of the garage floor, and we drew.

It was great fun watching her draw. She held the chalk in her beak and would make a set of side-to-side marks in one spot with the chalk. Then she would hop up and turn in another direction and make another set of side-to-side marks in a different spot.

I copied the kinds of marks she was making on different parts of the paper. The only difference was I didn’t hop up and turn in another direction the way Emily did. I just turned the paper.

We stopped when we had filled the paper. Chickens are very thorough like that.

We propped our drawing up against the workbench so we could step back and look at it.

“Those white chalk marks on the blue paper sort of look like clouds, don’t they, Emily?”

“They do. They really do!”

She was very pleased with the drawing, and she was more pleased that we had made it together.

“I want to draw Amelia,” she said.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Emily) made me rethink my priorities. Today there is someone who would rather do something with you more than anything else.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!