Never mind the “Secret Lives of Bees”–I’m intrigued by the Secret Lives of Kids. I would never guess what’s going on in my own kids’ heads if I didn’t chatter and play with them. Case in point: our 11-year-old son, Christian, has been harboring a long-standing wish to own chickens. I had no idea.
He first floated the idea in the context of our long-term Plan: a bed-and-breakfast on the acre that’s awaiting us on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Could we have chickens there, he wondered, and could he help with them? Given that the “long-term” part of the Plan is largely due to considering ourselves anchored-in-Idaho by joint custody until the kids get through school, that would be a lo-o-ong wait. Really, you want chickens? Well… How about NOW?
Our neighbor Anatoli has chickens already—chickens who (he claims, in his own thickly accented English) “speak Spanish, and English, and on Saturdays, Russian.” And Chuck (the disabled Vet just down the way from us, whose yard gets mowed in turns by Keoni and Steve and Bill, who have undertaken the volunteer rotation without ever talking about it) has hens that he raised himself from the eggs. So no problem, we figured—and we promised Christian chickens this summer.
The beginning of May, to our surprise, brought a form-letter from the landlord reminding everyone to mow their yards and keep their porches tidy… and to get rid of “farm animals” by June 1. The letter clarified that chickens were meant by that, and that there had better not be any chickens left on the property by June. The afternoon of the letter’s arrival, Steve and Bill and Keoni and Anatoli convened at the “four corners” where our yards converge, and (like a bunch of biddies themselves) dissected the letter, managing in the process to dissuade Anatoli (conditioned, perhaps, by Soviet-Bloc life?) from immediately killing his dear hens. The idea of a neighborhood petition arose from the gab-session; Keoni volunteered me to write one up, and Bill said he’d walk it all around the park.
A little research showed that every town in our county (including the capital city of Boise) legally defines hens (up to a certain number, which varies town by town) as pets, rather than farm animals. Since our leases prohibit “farm animals”—but not specifically chickens—our argument hangs on the definition. I got in touch with nationally-recognized author and “backyard chicken advocate” Gretchen Anderson, who happens to live in our own town of Eagle, to inquire about the rules and interpretations of this municipality–though I realized soon after that our trailer park (“Eagle” address notwithstanding) is outside the town boundary…
In any case, our “Request to Reconsider the Ruling Regarding Chickens” relied on these points:
- Female chickens, up to a certain number, are legally considered pets rather than farm animals even within city limits of the cities in Ada County. The most restrictive city in Ada County is Boise, which currently allows up to three female chickens (and is in the process of considering an increase to allow six). Other cities in Ada County have set even higher numbers allowable as pets, collectively setting a clear legal precedent for the classification of chickens as pets rather than as farm animals.
- Female chickens do not create any noise nuisance, health hazards, or devaluation of property value.
- Chickens provide excellent pest control with regard to bugs, provide fertilizer for gardens, and provide eggs for the household—all of which are markedly advantageous for families attempting to feed themselves in these tough economic times.
By the next evening Bill had collected more than forty signatures on the petition. The only person in the park who declined to sign cited as her reason the fact that she didn’t want her son-in-law (who also lives here) to take it into his head to raise chickens… Bill met with the manager, presented the petition, and then… We waited. June 1 came and went, and we still hadn’t heard anything either way. Anatoli’s and Chuck’s chickens continue to cluck away on either side of us, oblivious to their suspended sentence.
So… We’ve decided to go ahead and build our poultry-pen. Steve has a stack of two-by-fours for which we bartered a couple recycled coffee-creamer-jugs filled with Keoni’s teriyaki sauce & his ginger salad dressing, I just found a free roll of chicken wire on Craigslist, and Christian is doing the research about details like chicken-food…
On a more sobering note (literally, for the two of us), our little neighborhood also marked a sad circumstance today. Our neighbor four doors down—known for his metal-work and his race-car driving—took his own life today. Steve knew him well because he used to live in our trailer, and Steve (who has been Sober a year longer than we) says he was in Recovery, but had gone back to drinking. The Crime Scene Investigation team has been courteous and circumspect, quietly inquiring among the neighbors about his recent habits, what sort of music he’d been listening to. And I suppose it’s telling that in this fairly tight-knit little country neighborhood, no one had answers. It’s telling, too, that he’s one of the only neighbors whose name I don’t know. We’d actually been keeping an eye out for him, wanting to introduce ourselves and ask if he had plans for the stack of tiles in his driveway, but we hadn’t yet found—or made—the opportunity. We were reflecting yesterday on our brief 18 months of Sobriety—as well as lessons learned from that relapse, brief but utterly disastrous—and our neighbor’s suicide brings the severity of this disease home to roost.
To end on a related—but more upbeat—note, we lost a dear friend yesterday morning. I say “upbeat” because this man’s life is one to celebrate, even mixed with the sadness of goodbye. Gary (or Grrrr, as we always called him) “graduated from the Program” with decades of Sobriety behind him—a man who daily celebrated the blessing of “going to sleep every night instead of passing out, and waking up every morning instead of coming to.” We’re pretty sure that he has already ensconced himself in a back-row seat for the Great Meeting in the Sky, set up his Cribbage board, rolled his own cigarette, and responded to another angel’s “Good-to-see-you” greeting with his standard response: “It’s good to be seen!” Grrrr, you are loved! And we know that you have gone home to roost where you will be most joyful. Save us a seat!