At 45, a man’s mind turns to fast engines and young chicks, and Ranger Tim is no exception. In a short time he’s acquired five motorbikes—all beaters—and seventeen hens. They’re his path out of the (Silicon) valley of darkness.
Four sisters survive from his first Easter clutch of bathtub chicks. For every murdered bird—lost to coyotes, rattlesnakes, racoons, or suffocating love—he consoles himelf with three tiny replacements from the hatchery in Watsonville. The nursery coop has been busy all summer, and the original four are now poised young hens.
Helen is still the favorite, a brash Americauna who will put up with cuddles in return for exclusive access to a soggy tomato. She lays Tiffany-blue eggs with orange yolks, which I coddle with cream. In fluorescent conference rooms, I look forward to Tim’s bulletins on her adventures:
“Helen is a lush,” runs one subject line. “Last night I opened a cabernet and sat watching the chickens scratch around by the house. She feels considerable entitlement to hand feeding of treats like pinhead oatmeal so often jumps up on the table and glares at me until I put out. This time though she was distracted, picking at the wine bottle, and so on a lark I tipped my glass toward her and with only brief hesitation she put her beak in there. Emerged shaking her head, then straight back in, lapping it up.
After a minute I took the glass away but I’m sure she would have licked it dry. As it was her beard and cheeks were soaked with wine and she looked lit and dishevelled like any young Englishwoman at the pub.”
When chicks are moved from the bathtub to the coop, at about two weeks old, they are confused by strange surroundings. Doors are a new concept. They blunder past the open door looking for the way out, or else they get out but can’t understand why their indoor sisters are right in front of them and yet out of reach.
At first we joked about their limitations. But they figured out the coop exit long before we realized that a chicken could visit our offices any day and marvel that even though the door was right there, these full-grown humans couldn’t seem to find the way out of our cubicles.
Chickens are wise. Every morning they deposit their rent in shared nest boxes. They spend the rest of the day gossiping while they scratch for food, exploring the ranch, and taking ecstatic dust baths. Because every bird looks out for the flock’s safety, together they have more time to feed and play. At dusk they troop back to their roosts and cuddle with a kindred spirit, until they wake with the sunrise. They have never taken a Work-Life Balance Seminar.