The Shakers believed in maintaining things of importance in the natural world. Traditional farming techniques in their medicinal gardens and heirloom varieties of livestock in their barns. The only thing they forgot to successfully preserve were the Shakers themselves. Zealotry before procreation, not a winning, or Catholic, equation. Thus the lovely Shaker farm we visited is now just a museum, the last five Shakers living out the long years somewhere in upstate New York. We were back in Mass. this summer visiting Ilse’s parents when some neighbors – who had been shown our LA Times article - were happy to offer up that since we had chickens at Sky Farm we’d be interested in seeing the heirloom chickens at the Shaker Village in Hancock. They had been saved from extinction on some volcanic island, or something. Off we went on one of those New England summer days that take precedence over all others. There we found all the elements of the good, if sexually repressed, life. We found the gardens, the fine circular dairy barn, the handy furniture and homespun clothes and of course, the fancy chickens, but we also found the even fancier heirloom turkies. Pearly white with translucently blue heads and gentle foreskin-pink gobbles hanging limply forward. And lo!, there at the corner of their turkey tractor was a single egg that had rolled under the edge by the wheel and escaped the scrutiny of the earlier egg crews. Ilse and I both thought back to our broody hen, the wee Silky, Cecil, soft as a kitten, who is forever sitting on other’s eggs, driven by instinct to maternally hoist herself upon any available oval. Sometimes she sits there, puffed out on nothing at all, determined to incubate. She wants pups. But our wee Silky rooster is either too short, too busy in his Napoleonic frustrations, or just gay and is not handling her business. So to relieve her constant sitting earlier in the Spring we had slipped some fertilized eggs under her and sure enough she brought to light the little chick photo’d in the Times article. That chick was now a big chicken, twice as large as her mother, a bit fearful looking with no neck feathers, and devout in her filial bond. It’s touching to see the two of them cuddled together, child hulking over its mother. And damn if the old girl hadn’t gone broody again. Ilse’s not one to just ruminate on the flowering of her farm and with one swift scoop the egg was up and into her shirt, safe in the warm early incubator of her breasts, perched deftly there on the oxbow of her bra. Ilse had learned from our earlier hatching exploits that fertilized eggs can stand in limbo for up to ten days before entering proper incubation and kick starting the gestation process. So against the odds that it was actually fertilized, and that it would survive the trip, and that our broody hen might foster the proper care once it was slipped under her, for the pure thrill of possible LIFE! we skipped off with the beast of an egg to the nearest FedEx where a cellphone box proved the perfect carrier for our newest experiment in husbandry. But since when are Ilse’s garden efforts not assured their due fecundity? Our house sitter texted the next day, “The Eagle has landed.” And 28 expectant days later, our little Silky ushered in the newest member of the Sky Farm Family, Giles Corey, named after the Salem witch we’ve recently taken a weighty liking to. And mind you, our proud little hen is mother twice over without yet breaking her hymen, a silken miracle that our Shaker brethren in their sexless Christianity must take some small solace in, despite the fact we nicked their fancy heirloom egg.
Archive for August, 2008
And thus the eagle has landed safely in the clutches of Sky Farm’s most Laura Ingalls Wilder bosom.
There is an old, beautiful apricot tree left here as a remnant of Hazel, the woman who built this house in the 20′s with her husband only to watch him die shortly there after and spend the rest of her life here alone. Although the tree is about as old as Hazel would have been, it has begun to flower again under Ilse’s diligent - read brut and loving – pruning. Unfortunately, Quince, our resident squirrel feasts on these pretty blossoms so we’re lucky to eat one apricot a year. But the plum tree Ilse and the CHICKS planted out the kitchen window is hidden behind Ichium and Morning Glory and growing steadily and unmolested. “Wait, look!” Ilse said the other morning as we stood at the sink. She rushed out and came back with this handful. Young, but very tasty. We’ve done Hazel proud again.