> jumping into life.


the thrumming is back,
the hummingbird trapped
in the cage of my ribbones,
sipping the honey of my veins.

it says: love.

it beats its wings inside me.

my family is scattered as pollen,
and i red-eyed, sniffling,
blown about by the wind.
best friends all out of reach.

a hummingbird not bound
by a poor girl's body
can fly across the Gulf of Mexico,
flaps its wings in figure-eights,
flashes in the sun.

this one hovers. this one hums,
sips honey, traces infinity
across my chest cavity with each wingbeat.
keeps beating,
across the bright and barren reaches
- i have not seen my family in six months,
and will not for months to come -
keeps beating.

it says: love.


After a lazy morning yesterday--let the chickens out, water the seedlings, have some breakfast, read a bit--my sister-in-law B and I decided to go for a hike. We're both slightly injured at the moment, a bad hip on her side and a trick knee on mine, so we opted to avoid our usual (and mountainous) trails. The little town we live in has a trail that circles it, of which J and I have hiked one small section, and we decided to do the whole thing, as it's mostly flat and we're curious. J thought it was ten miles, but I thought it was seven, and we left at ten with two apples and a bottle of water.

The trail crosses the road not far from our house, so that's where we started. The map gave mileage only for trail sections, and that inconsistently. We do some math, decide we'll be back around two. Across a wide field, then into the woods. It's been rainy and wet for the past week or so, and the trail had gathered a slick coating of mud. B and I slipped and sloshed and bemoaned our muddy shoes. We crossed the highway, and back into the woods.

Up a hill, around and about. Birds everywhere, water and mud everywhere. After a while, the trail deposited us back into town. We checked the map with some surprise - we hadn't gotten nearly so far as we expected. A quick detour to the co-op for another bottle of water and some energy bars, and the churchbells chiming noon. Yellow signs directing us west out of town. Soon we're back in the woods.

The morning started cool and misty, perfect for a hike. But the day gathered heat, the moisture in the air turning sticky. We kept walking. The trail wound through sloshy wetland, up little rocky hills, and back down. At the next crossing, the map showed us that we still hadn't gotten that far. We revised our estimate to a four o'clock return.

At four o'clock we were still some five miles out. Our earlier boisterous conversation had grown progressively more intimate, but now we go for long periods of quiet, all focus on just walking. I broke into my emergency stash of beef jerky, tucked away in my backpack in case I'm stuck out overnight unexpectedly; we'd long since eaten the apples and the energy bars. My knee chanting why why why and my muddy, blistered feet joined in. The dancing green canopy around us has become a blur. We talk intermittently - of love, spirit, change, and how tired we are - and we do not stop walking.

In the last leg, the trail split. The sign says "long way" with one arrow and "short way" with another. We actually pause a moment, considering, then take off on the short path with a burst of slightly hysterical laughter.

The trail, as it turns out, is 16 miles long. When we got home, we ate and ate and stretched and whined. B eventually summoned the energy to go get us a movie. Today I'm aching, but the knee is happier than I expected. And we finished the whole damn thing, which at mile 14 I was not certain we would do. And it though it took quite a lot longer than we'd planned, was a better way than most to spend a day.


Here is the truth about farm animals: they die.

It is the truth about all animals, of course, and all life. But it is one of the strings in the long, strange chord of husbandry that the animals you care for will die, sometimes when you choose them to but often before, and you will be faced with the task of calculating the value of their lives.

I love my chickens more than they warrant, but when one fell sick, we did not rush her to the bird specialist in Shelburne. I coddle and cuddle my chickens, feed them from my fingers and tuck them into their coop at night, but they are not pets. They are livestock. We are runnning a farm.

We consulted with the state veterniarian, on whose advice we gave her Pedialyte out of an eyedropper every hour, and enticed her with cornbread mush. Twice a day I cleaned the fly-infested shit off of her back feathers. I moved her convalescent milk-crate nest around the yard to keep her in the shade and in sight of the rest of the flock -- a chicken alone can die of loneliness. At night we put her in a pet carrier on the porch to protect her from marauding weasels, skunks, and foxes, and to keep her from circling the electric fence, trying to find a way into the roost.

But she was not a pet. She cost us $12 and produced five eggs a week; at $3 a dozen she had just about paid herself off when she stopped laying last Friday. A visit to the vet costs as much as a visit to the doctor, and to take her in would have wiped out all our egg money and then some. Besides which -- or actually, because of which -- chicken diagnostics are almost entirely based on necropsy. People run blood tests on cows and sheep, because individually they're expensive and valuable. Chickens are cheap -- we bought full-grown pullets, but chicks are only a dollar or two -- and the loss of five eggs a week minor in comparison to a vet bill. Cheaper and easier to whack whichever one is the sickest and ship her off to the extension service to be examined there.

But still I love them. So I sat in the buggy dusk with the eyedropper of Pedialyte and baby asprin, and I smashed whole colonies of fly eggs stuck to her feathers. She was my third-favorite chicken.

I still haven't come fully to peace with this husbandry thing, the deal we make with our livestock -- I will care for you, raise you, clean up your shit and feed you good food, and I will take your eggs/milk/fleece/meat for myself, and in the end you will die. The deal we make with ourselves, because they of course do not and cannot agree to it. I think my chickens are happy. All the evidence of my senses and my knowledge of animal behavior leads me to think they are happy. Sometimes they want to keep their eggs, even though we have no rooster, and I take them anyway. I don't know how long we'll keep these hens. Their egg production will drop off after a year or so, and most commercial hens get the axe around then. We got dual purpose breeds -- eggs and meat -- on purpose.

I don't know. I know that they're all going to die whether I do anything about it or not. I know that my body demands that I eat meat, and that raising some part of it myself seems the best and most responsible course of action. I know that my chickens come running in a ridiculous stampede when I approach and then follow me around the yard, and that I love them, and that their eggs are the most delicious I've ever had. Is it fair to them? It seems fair to me, on the shit-shoveling and fence-moving side, but they can't tell me what they think. And we didn't take our sick chicken to the vet, and she did die. Was that fair? I don't know. What do you think?