“Just Farm Animals” (Part 2)

Just Farm Animals

This is a continuation of the previous post, and you may want to read it first if you haven’t already. Today’s illustration is based on one of Gracie’s bad dreams.

Perhaps Gracie had said this because she wanted to know who she is and what she means to me. It felt like the kind of statement made by someone who is hesitant to say exactly what is on their heart.

“Who told you that you were just a farm animal?” I asked.

“The crows,” she said as she stood up.

Neither my chickens nor I like the crows that occasionally come into our yard. They are loud, oily-looking, and they only seem to want to upset everything.

“What did the crows tell you about being a farm animal?”

“Crows are like you. They can have as much corn as they want. Chickens aren’t like you. Chickens are farm animals. We only get the corn you give us. If crows don’t like the corn in one field, they can fly to another field. We can’t.”

“Gracie, do you believe you are just a farm animal?”

She thought this over very carefully. She didn’t want to expose the bruises the crows had put on her heart.

She had seen their freedom and had heard what they said their life outside our garden was like.

“Gracie, it doesn’t matter what anyone says about what you are. When I look at you, I see a friend who I absolutely adore in every way. But even what I say doesn’t matter. What matters is what you believe about yourself.”

In her deepest heart, she knew all this was true, but what the crows had been telling her made her doubt both herself and me. Those crows will peck until they find a vulnerable spot, and then they are merciless.

“I can’t fly like the others. I can’t fly away, even if I wanted to, though I don’t want to, honestly I don’t want to. Even though the crows say it’s better to be like them and like you.

“I can’t even fly up to the perch here in our run like everyone else can. But I try not to let anyone know.

“I don’t have any choices. Not like Amelia. Not like the others.”

Her voice faded off. It was as if she had nothing more to say and even if she could say more, she felt her words and her actions couldn’t change anything.

“Gracie, I know how you feel. I may never be more than what I am right now.”

She looked up at me in surprise.

“Some people say I’m just a crazy old man who has chickens in his backyard.”

Suddenly she knew she was not as alone as how she had been feeling.

“Making a home for you and taking care of you is just about the only thing I’ve ever done right, or as close to right as I can do it.

“Sometimes I wonder about whether even that is true or not. But I really have tried.

“I don’t have the kind of life most people would think of as successful. But I wouldn’t exchange my life here with you for anyone else’s life.”

Gracie realized life was not exactly like what the crows had told her.

“People have their own kind of crows. You may not have known that. But we do.

“So I have to remind myself there aren’t many people with chickens in their backyards who dance ballet like you do.”

Gracie sat back down and rested her head on my leg to comfort me.

“I guess we are just stuck with each other. Aren’t we?” she asked softly.

“I guess we are, Gracie.”

I rested the palm of my hand on her back to comfort her, and we smiled together.

“You know,” she said, “I wonder if those crows had anything to do with Amelia leaving when she did.”

“It’s possible.”

“Sometimes they give me bad dreams where they won’t leave me alone and I can’t get away from them. They want to take every good thing in my life from me.

“Did you know she left before her feathers were completely back in after molting? She left almost as soon as they had grown back enough for her to fly.”

“I didn’t realize that.”

“It’s really something only another chicken would notice.”

Gracie hopped up into my lap so we could look at the clouds together as they were beginning to be tinted with sunset colors.

“I hate those crows,” she said.

“I do too, Gracie. I do too.”

Somewhere out there was Amelia. We both silently hoped she was safe and free from the crows in her life.

“Gracie?”

“Yes?”

“Crows make horrible ballet dancers.”

We clucked and chuckled together as we imagined how ballet-dancing crows would look. Soon the sun had set. Then I helped her up into the coop for the night.

“Sweet dreams, Gracie.”

My Life With Gracie helped me see we may never be more than what we are right now to the world, but there is no limit to what we can be to each other when there is love.

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

“Sure Things” And “Possibilities”

A Free Heart

This is part of a series I’ve shared from time to time about Amelia and how she wants to be the first chicken to fly to the moon and back. Here is the most recent posting if you are a new reader or just want a refresher before reading today’s story.

There are times when Amelia totally steals my heart away, as if she is the only chicken I have ever had or ever will have. She is both “sure things” and “possibilities” all wrapped up in one delightful feathery package.

While I am away at work, my chickens are secure inside their large covered run and coop. They have plenty of room to play, take dust baths, and simply sit and watch the world go by. But their favorite time is when I come home and open their expanded fenced-in backyard playground.

They can hardly keep their feet still long enough for me to undo the safety latch. Everyone is focused on my hand and the latch. The most important question in that moment is “Will it still open this time?” Once they hear the scraping metal sound they have been waiting for, they all charge out in different directions and into a world full of possibilities.

Most evenings, even when they don’t get to visit their backyard playground, I give them some corn kernels. It is my way of making sure no one goes to bed hungry or wanting.

One evening, I gave them their corn just before opening up the gate to their playground. Everyone quickly forgot about the corn.

They ignored what was a sure thing and went after what was a possibility. They trusted the corn would still be there after they explored in their playground. They pursued the chance, just the slight possibility, of finding an earthworm or a bug.

But then Amelia did what Amelia does best. She broke “the rules” of what you would expect in the most adorable way. While everyone else was scratching around for what might be found in the backyard, she slipped back into the coop to get some corn.

She gave me that look of, “You know what I’m doing, but you won’t tell anyone, will you?”

I winked at her to let her know her secret was safe. While everyone else was hunting for a possibility, she was taking advantage of a sure thing.

She went back and forth between hunting in their playground and getting corn from their run area. After she had enjoyed enough of both, she settled down into a cozy spot at my feet, quite content.

“Amelia, what made you different from the others this evening?”

“Different?”

“Yes, it was more than just cleverness. What made you do both things back and forth like that? You know, hunting for bugs and gathering up corn.”

Amelia thought about it for a while. “Cleverness” would have been a simple answer, but we both knew there was more to it than just being clever.

“It’s because my heart is free.” She said this as if testing out how it would sound for the first time.

“What makes your heart free?”

It felt like we were exploring new territory, just like being in a new backyard, just like scratching around to discover something wildly exciting.

“Being thankful, I think. Yes, if anything does it, it would be thankfulness. Not being thankful for someone or something puts your own heart in a cage.”

Amelia seemed to have surprised even herself with this answer because it meant she was the only one who could keep her world small.

We both sat there, thinking this over. Usually it is someone else taking our freedom from us that makes our world small, but this idea was different.

Eventually Amelia spoke again.

“When you are thankful for everything, it’s like there really isn’t a difference between the corn and the bugs. It’s all the same.”

“All the same?”

“We know you give us the corn. It’s a gift. Sometimes we think we are getting the bugs for ourselves, but we aren’t, not really. We forget you give us the opportunity to hunt for bugs. That’s a gift too.”

“And realizing that is what makes your heart free?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so. Just being thankful. Then it’s all the same. No matter what you have or don’t have. No matter where you are or aren’t.”

As the light became dimmer, the others came to get some of the remaining corn kernels before heading up to their coop for the night. No one seemed to notice there was less corn than earlier when they had gone out to their playground to explore and hunt.

Amelia was the last to go up as usual.

“Even you are a gift, aren’t you, Amelia? You are a gift to me.”

“Just as you are a gift to me.”

With that, she flew up into the coop to join the others for the night.

It was one of the last deep conversations we would have before she would go off to find out if she could be lost and not afraid. Maybe she was getting both of us ready for that day.

My Life With Gracie (and especially Amelia) made me aware of the power of thankfulness.

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