Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Literature and Chickens
In a letter to James Thurber, one of the funniest men ever to put pen to paper, E.B. White, no slouch himself, wrote: “I don't know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.” I would concur with his confusion.
If you want to read that sentence again, you can walk along 41st Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue, a block known as Library Way, and look down. There are many other pertinent and pithy quotes embedded in the sidewalk, but you can understand why this one jumped out at me, and clucked.
It seems we embarked on this chicken venture in complete ignorance. I read The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald, about adventures on a chicken farm in Washington state in the 1930’s; and we wandered through the poultry tents at county fairs coveting the silkies, and thought we were ready. Or I did.
Then Annie F. gave us 25 eggs and the Hoffman boys incubated them. Fifteen hatched and if you’ve been reading for a while, you already know how many were roosters. So we ordered 15 more hens, guaranteed to have ovaries.
CSB built a beautiful chicken house (only slightly unfinished and still in need of the electrician) and we bought a copy of Chickens for Dummies. I also bought a Field Guide to chicken breeds so I could wonder what breeds we have. Which is not as simple as it sounds. A crest and a beard may be the defining characteristics of a Crevecouer, but so are leaden blue toes and Bump’s toes are more of a slate blue. Then there is the matter of Mamacita’s weird comb.
I mention Bump and Mamacita because as far as I can tell, those are the only two laying hens we have thus far. I have seen them both, at various times, brooding in the roosting boxes, but I have not seen them actually lay the eggs.
In the law I think this would be referred to as circumstantial evidence.
In addition to the Decapitation of Saints Cosmas and Damien, and the Naval papers of the Quasi War between France and the US that I pass by en route to the powder room, one of the great benefits of having an office is that I am not tempted to visit the chicken house every hour to see if any more eggs have been laid. This is what I did all last weekend, and I am sad to report that my eagerness did not seem to enhance egg formation.
As for which is more discouraging, literature or chickens, they are neck and neck, wattle to wattle, beak to beak.