In the middle of the city where I live, in my fifty- by fifty-foot backyard, my mate has built a chicken coop. I can see my young hens in it now from my study window—taking long pulls from the waterer, pecking at their food, scratching around in the wood shavings. When I switch on the baby monitor, I can hear their contented crooning.
I kept chickens when I lived in the country, but until this spring I was for a long time an apartment dweller. Frank lived two miles away on the other side of town. A house was always out of reach. Sometimes, in my dreams, I found myself back in the barn where my chickens were once kept. They were always there, my chickens, still alive, hanging on despite my abandonment of them. I was frantic to bring them food and water.
Frank and I signed on our house last spring, a day before the $8000 government tax credit for new homeowners expired, and that day I went home and ordered my chickens. I had followed with interest the story of a 10-year-old girl who three years before had lobbied her city council for the right to keep chickens in her suburban backyard. When she won her cause, my city soon followed suit.
The chicks, freshly hatched, arrived in a peeping little box studded with air holes. I drove a few blocks to my city’s main post office to pick them up. It seemed miraculous to me that live birds could be delivered to me by U.S. mail.
They lived under a heat lamp in a box in my study for their first five weeks—the dust from their feed settling in a thin layer over every flat surface—and then in the half-built chicken coop. Two days ago, they acquired their red corrugated roof.
As I write, Frank, coffee mug in hand, takes the dog out to the yard and opens the hatch to their outdoor pen. I sit at my computer and watch from the window as they come bursting out into the day.