I’m strolling on the shady side of the street when I hear something like a baby’s wail. No strollers, toddlers or ailing dogs are in sight but the sound persists. It’s odd and familiar at the same time. I stop beside an elementary school to find a hen house and six or seven chickens clucking and crowing. You’d think I’d never seen a live animal before – I’m momentarily transfixed. What are these birds doing in Chicago?
There are animals around town: pigeons, dogs on leashes, bunnies, squirrels, rats, and a big gray parrot the man down the block brings out occasionally. Farm animals, other than at the annex of the Lincoln Park Zoo, not so much. There was the 1999 Cow Parade when fiberglass cows were decorated and displayed all around town. But they weren’t mooing, or eating, or leaving cow pies in the street. I’ve read about folks in the area who have chickens in their yard. At best, the owner is collecting eggs every day, at worst, they spark tensions with their neighbors when they are awakened at dawn.
A yard full of chickens is a picture from an idyllic past. Self-sufficiency and living off of the land. Doubtless, generations back on all our family trees, there were some farmers; for me, that memory is filled in by movies. Dorothy Gale before Oz, simpler times, wholesome hardworking people. A quieter life evoked in this poem by William Carlos Williams:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
This henhouse is apparently a teaching tool for the elementary school, nestled next to a greenhouse. It’s important for kids to see where food comes from – tomatoes, green beans, and eggs – though I doubt seriously that they learn how to make chicken nuggets out of their feathered friends.
I hope these birds have a warmer home in winter, but till then, it’ll be fun to walk by and imagine I’m far from the hot concrete, cars, and city noise.