This account was published in Daybook #2. Daybook asks contributing writers to chronicle the thoughts and activities of an entire day. This was written during the sanctuary's first year. Much has changed since then. Pattrice has quit smoking and now coordinates the Global Hunger Alliance. And, of course, many more chickens now enjoy life at the sanctuary.
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The setting for today is a small house situated on two acres of land in the poorest county in Maryland. Here on the DelMarVa peninsula, we are surrounded by farmland but only 45 minutes from the ocean. 4.7 miles of country road takes you from the highway to our house. Up the road is the big farm owned by the white family after whom our road is named. We are among a scattering of small houses, most of which are owned and inhabited by members of an extended African American family. Its not hard to guess the history of this pattern of land ownership.
We moved here less than a year ago, drawn by dreams of rural life and a real estate market so depressed that even we could afford a small house and a bit of land. Our monthly mortgage payment for said house and land is less than half of what one of us used to pay to rent a one bedroom apartment in a city. Eventually, we want to put in a solar energy system. Between that and growing much of our own food, we hope to decrease our need for cash money to the point where neither of us has to work full time for money. That way, we will have more time for activism, art, and other meaningful activities.
Another long-term goal was to start some sort of animal sanctuary. We didnt have any particular animal in mind except for having a general awareness that farmed animals are very much in need of sanctuary. We figured that we could take our time finding out where the need was greatest, since it would be quite a while before we would have the financial ability to start any kind of shelter.
The chickens had other ideas. Within weeks of moving -- on the way to the bank to set up our checking account, as a matter of fact -- we found a chicken in a ditch by the side of the road. At first we cheered her escape from the truck headed for the poultry factory but then we realized that she would die if left out there in the snowy ditch. As I swung the truck around to pick her up, I got that sinking feeling that says my life is about to change.
It did. The comic aspects of two city gals learning to take care of a chicken -- including our surprise when she started crowing -- are too many to recount here. Suffice it to say that we fell in love with chickens. Since this is poultry country, there are plenty of them to rescue. Soon and very soon we had three then six then twenty-six and still counting. Eventually, we decided to make it formal and incorporated the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary. At present, the number of sanctuary residents hovers around 80 including not only the broiler birds who jump from poultry trucks and escape from chicken farms but also layer hens rescued from egg factories.
Why? Because we love them but also because it is the right thing to do. Chickens are birds and are as deserving of protection and respect as any heron or bald eagle. Instead, chickens are subjected to unthinkable tortures so that people can have the pleasure of eating cheap meat and eggs. Every day, our joy in interacting with the birds that live with us is tempered by the knowledge of what their relatives are going through. All we can do is what we can do.
Who are we? Me and my partner Miriam, for two. Were both female, both in our thirties, both from big cities. Miriam teaches high school and I work as a freelance writer and editor. Our household also includes three dogs -- eight year old Zami, who is the moral center of our household; two year old Dandelion, who lives up to her name; and six month old Gretchen the Third, who has the only truly sunny disposition in the household -- and two cats -- grey tabby Reuven, who must cope with being the only male in the indoor family, and sleek black Sheena, who is worshipped by all. All of the dogs are big dogs. Since the day recorded here, the cats have been joined by Samhain, who was found on a pile of coats at the dump.
The daily tragedy of being forced out of bed begins. Gretchen is walking on our heads and Zami is whining pathetically at the back door. Inside of the covers is warm, so very warm. Outside of the covers is oh so cold. Blessedly, Miriam gets up to let them outside.
Miriam sweetly tells me its time to get up.
Miriam sweetly tells me its time to get up.
Miriam sweetly tells me its time to get up. I claim that all I want is 5 more minutes of sleep. She accedes but then I suddenly remember that I didnt go out to buy more dog food last night. I had planned to make some rice to mix in with the kibble that we do have, but fell asleep before doing so. In my sleepy state, the three hungry dogs outside seem like ravenous wolves or maybe starving kittens. Either way, I must figure out what to feed them. With great regret, I drag myself from under the covers and pile on layer upon layer of mismatched clothing.
06:35 - 07:00 AM
I figure out that by adding some leftover spaghetti and a can of puppy food left over from when we briefly sheltered a pit bull found by the side of the road, I can stretch the kibble to cover breakfast. With great relief, I do so. I then make Miriams lunch, as I try to do every day. Sandwich, apple, something salty, something sweet, and some sour treats for the work mate who eats lunch with her. As I am assembling the lunch and Miriam is getting ready, we chat about the upcoming day. As usual, the conversation is punctuated by cries of Gretchen! and Gretchen, No! and Gretchen, Down! Going back into the bedroom to put on outdoor clothing, I run into Dandelion and spend some time loving her up. I then pile on more clothing, as though opening up the chicken coop were the equivalent of an Arctic expedition. I am having a hard time with the transition to autumn.
07:00 - 08:00 AM
The sun is coming up later each day. Its downhill to solstice when finally the days will start getting longer again. I wait for a few minutes until sunrise has truly arrived and then go out to open up the converted garage that serves as a chicken coop. On the way from our door to theirs I hear wild bird songs that I havent heard for a while. I guess many of the birds who over-winter here are back. I am glad of that. Now comes the morning routine: fill up the water basin in the first hen yard then open up the coop door which opens into that yard, say good morning hens, climb over the fence into the rooster yard cursing myself for not yet putting in the gate between the yards, fill up the water basin in the rooster yard then open up the coop door which opens into that yard, say good morning roosters, go through the gate to the second hen yard, fill up that water basin and open up that door saying good morning hens again. The greetings are always heartfelt because, no matter how cranky I might be about getting up and out in the morning, I am always so happy just to see them. And they are happy too -- to get out! Dont let anyone tell you that chickens are somehow content to be confined. They want out at sunrise and, except in severe weather, will stay out till sunset given the opportunity to do so. Anyway, back to the routine... but, wait -- I notice that two hens from the group that just came in from Ohio have found their way into the rooster yard. They dont realize that these big broiler roosters could seriously hurt them just doing what comes naturally. So, Ive got to catch them and put them back with the hens. Then, back to the routine. Next, I have to take any ailing birds to the separate hospital area adjoining one of the hen yards. Right now, thats Dolly and Cynthia. Dolly is an indomitable hen recovering from a foot injury. Shes affectionate and stubborn and often reminds me of my departed grandmother. She came in last may with a bunch of hens from the same farm and, since they spend all their time together, I am only now getting to know them individually. And, not a moment too soon, since they are reaching the age at which many of these poor broiler birds start to experience health problems due to having breasts which are too large for their ligaments and internal organs to comfortably support. Weve already lost a few of Dollys crew and I am grieving them still. Cynthia is a youngster brought to us by a lady who found her by the side of the road. Shes almost completely blind, probably from the ammonia fumes at the chicken house in which she spent the eight weeks leading up to slaughter. Shes very sweet and has grown very attached to Dolly. We are hoping for a younger bird to come in soon and get attached to Cynthia so that she can have someone to lead her around. Once Dolly and Cynthia are settled, its time to feed everyone. As I am distributing the chicken scratch and sunflower seeds, I notice that Railroad Red has found her way into the new hen yard. Railroad, who is a Rhode Island Red we found by the railroad tracks, traditionally has hung out with the roosters and has been allowed to do so because she is quick enough to evade them. Allowed is probably the wrong word since Railroad does exactly what she wants regardless of any efforts on our part to sway her. I also notice that a couple of roosters are sneezing. That means theyve picked up the bronchitis that hit some of the hens earlier in the week. Its a good thing that I decided to medicate everyones water. Now, I just have to watch and worry and hope that everyone recovers. Since some of the hens who are already improving, I am hopeful that the course of treatment will work for the roosters too. While all of has been going on, I have been keeping up a running commentary aloud, addressing myself to any bird nearby. Now it is time for the individual greetings for the birds who expect them. Scout, Fanny, and Simone are just three of a host of red hens who expect some hand feeding and individual attention every morning. They all came from the same North Carolina egg factory, where they endured truly horrific conditions. I am amazed that they want anything to do with humans, since they are still visibly marked by those experiences. But they do want, indeed expect, attention from me. Scout is truly intrepid and will climb all over me peering intensely at anything new. Fanny seems to think of me as a walking tree and is pretty sure that, if she scratches at me just right, the seeds will pour forth from me. Simone deBeauvior is an independent egghead, with her own strange beauty; of all the birds, she is the one who is most tuned into my feelings. She comes around to comfort me when I am sad. But I am not sad this morning. It is a beautiful day. After all of the feeding is over, I pause for a few moments just to soak up the atmosphere of the peaceful morning light. Then, after saying a gentle hello to shy giant Iris, I go back inside.
08:00 - 08:20 AM
Per usual, Dandelion and Gretchen demand to be let out immediately. Per usual, I fulfill their demand, reminding them not to harass the chickens on the other side of the backyard fence. Then it is time to love up Zami. Every day at this time, she brings me a toy and we play a little fetch. Playing fetch is how we have always reaffirmed our relationship. Just a few tosses suffice to soothe us both. Now comes breakfast with the morning paper. I am craving a sandwich like the one I made for Miriams lunch so I go ahead and make one for myself, contemplating the fact that what I am really eating is a soy sandwich. Those vegan deli slices taste great as long as you dont think about the fact that you are really eating a slab of soy. But I am happy to have them. Its not so easy being vegan here. The food coops and other natural food outlets I had come to take for granted in the city simply do not exist. The local paper is usually a source of grim amusement. Today, however, it is just grim. Buchanan is coming to speak in a nearby town; Ralph Reed was here just last week. And then theres the Middle East. As soon as this round of fighting broke out, I knew that it would be more than just another skirmish. I take no satisfaction in being right.
08:20 - 08:30 AM
Jot down notes of day so far.
08:30 - 09:20 AM
Attend to my personal e-mail. Try hard not to get annoyed with Reuven, who wants to lay on the keyboard and who will not be dissuaded by gentle persuasion. I get a lot of e-mail. On purpose. I know it is fashionable to complain about too much e-mail but here in rural Amerikkka, it is a lifeline. For one, I conduct most of my business via e-mail, getting assignments from clients and editors and then sending the completed jobs as attachments. I also have signed up for a great number of individualized news and press release services; that keeps me up to date on the issues of interest to me and also helps me to generate article ideas that I can pitch to editors. [The other day, Miriam and I realized that we *are* the people whos lives have been changed by the internet. We found our house online. I write for online magazines, often doing much of my research online. We get most of the clients for our editing business through our web site. We have clients in Taiwan, Australia, and the U.K, which certainly wouldnt have been possible without the internet. Sitting in our little house in rural Maryland, we certainly dont feel like trendy members of the global cyber-economy but there you have it. We have met the present and it is us.] I keep in touch with a number of friends via e-mail, and can always count on at least one truly personal message every time I retrieve my mail. I also belong to a number of e-mail discussion lists on topics ranging from goddess worship to stamp collecting. All of which is to say that going through my e-mail takes a good bit of time every day. Today is a mixed e-mail news day. I read some good news about non-genetically modified maize crops but then read some bad news about the ethnic nationalism of Kostunica, who was supposed to be such a wonderful replacement for Milosovic. I worry. I let the dogs in.
09:20 - 10:25 AM
I hurry up and pay some bills before the mail carrier comes. I take a nice hot shower with peppermint soap, which takes the edge off the chill in the house. I check to make sure that Dolly and Cynthia are okay and briefly greet the other birds.
10:25 - 11:50 AM
Time now to check the e-mail for our editing business. Theres a note from a regular client asking us to please rush and edit a report for her. (English is not her first language, so she sometimes has us edit important reports that she will turn in at work.) I am happy to oblige but it turns out that the document she attached is a Windoze .exe file rather than a .doc file. This is not the first time this has happened with this client. I call her and she promises to get a friend to help her send the document the right way. While waiting, I go looking (online) for information about an international womens march that Miriam read about in the latest Off Our Backs. The march is the day after tomorrow. I hurry up and put a notice about it on the web site for our chicken sanctuary and then start thinking about what to put on a sign that would explain, in ten words or less, the connections between womens liberation and hen liberation. Meanwhile, I check the e-mail for the sanctuary. Often we get very interesting inquiries but today there is nothing very interesting.
11:50 AM - 01:15 PM
I still havent received the document from the editing client so I turn my attention to a contract writing job. In addition to the editing and freelance journalism, I also write reports for a company in New York. Today, the companys client needs me to visit several health care web sites and write up reports on them. Easy! I complete the job and send it off then check my personal e-mail again. I also jot down more notes about the day so far.
01:15 - 02:20 PM
I go to the mailbox with anticipation but return with disappointment. Living here, the daily mail is a big event. We make sure that we get a lot of interesting mail. But today there are no packages, no personal letters, no surprise donations to the sanctuary, not even any good magazines, just junk mail and bills. On the way back from the mailbox, I visit with the chickens. Back inside, I think about lunch then dance with the dogs. Still wanting lunch, I look vaguely into the refrigerator but find nothing of interest. At loose ends, I pick up a harmonica and start what we call a concert, since both Dandelion and Gretchen join in whenever I play. Bored of that, I give them a treat and decide that I really must eat. I grab a box of cornbread mix (cornbread mix?!? whatever possessed me to buy that when making cornbread from scratch is so easy?), follow the directions, and toss the resulting glop into muffin tins and then into the oven. I read my personal magazine while waiting for it to bake. [When I come upon online articles that I want to read but cant stop to peruse, I clip and save them to a text file which I periodically print out as my own personalized periodical. It works and helps to ease the pain of not being able to afford to subscribe to all of the magazines and newspapers I would like to read.] When the corn muffins are ready, I eat them while brooding about pastoralism and its connections to patriarchy. I try to convince myself that eating anything freshly baked is a delight but, truly, these muffins from a mix are wretched. I put on a big pot of eggs to boil for the chickens and return to the computer.
02:20 - 02:50 PM
The printer is acting up. Ive been avoiding admitting that there is a problem but now I have to fix it. I start trouble shooting and think that I may have found the problem when I smell something funny. Oh no! I turned on the wrong burner. Again! One more scorched burner cover for Miriam to mourn. Now Zami and Gretchen want to go out. I let them out the back door then go back to the computer to retry my print job. I am trying to print out some background information for an article that I want to pitch to a magazine. The first page prints okay but then the problem happens again. The client from this morning calls to say she has resent the document. I go into the printer again, finally finding a tiny piece of paper that was causing the problem. The cause of the paper is Sheena the cat, who loves to tear paper into tiny pieces with her sharp little teeth. Any unguarded paper in the house ends up with little bite marks. Now we will have to remember to guard the printer paper too.
02:50 - 03:25 PM
I go online to get the document for the editing job, morbidly reflecting on my recurring sinus infection as I wait for the evil Internet Explorer to initialize. (I am a MacAddict. IE is my only concession to Microsoft and only because it is free.) I get the document and sign off. I turn off the eggs, run some cold water over them, and then leave them to cool. I hurry up and edit the document and send it back to the client.
03:25 - 04:25 PM
I let Zami and Gretchen back in and then take fresh water to the chickens. Now it is time for their afternoon fruit and egg treat. While cutting up apples and tearing up eggs, I think about a talk that I am going to have to give next month in California. I need to figure out how to explain to gay men and lesbians why they should care about animal liberation. Its not so hard with lesbian feminists, since they recognize homophobia as a weapon of sexism and the connections between sexism and and animal abuse are pretty well established. But gay men and non-feminist lesbians (my mind reels at the thought)... I test out a few ideas in my head but am not satisfied. I take the treats out to the chickens and also fill up their regular food containers. I visit with the hens and note that my beloved Iris seems to be recovering nicely from the bronchitis. Visiting with the roosters, I notice that Viktor Frankl -- our first chicken and, hence, the real founder of the sanctuary -- is resting, which is unlike him at this time of day. Also little Lucky (the mamas boy of the rooster yard) is rasping. Again I am glad that I decided to put them all on the antibiotics. Up till now, I have relied upon natural means of health promotion but this clearly is a time when medications are warranted. I am not going to let myself worry about Viktor. But I do worry.
04:25 - 05:45 PM
I rest on the porch for a few minutes, thinking of nothing, then bestir myself to clean the coop. That involves using the pitchfork and wheelbarrow to cart out the soiled straw, scraping the floors and perches with a sharpened hoe, spraying water laced with essential oils to keep down flies and kill germs, and then putting in fresh straw. In the middle of all this, Miriam arrives home from work. She is crying with frustration and anger. She teaches in a different but still very rural school district. She loves the kids (and, if I may brag, she is an excellent teacher) but many of her coworkers are bigoted jerks. The racism among the white teachers is only barely suppressed and the homophobia among almost all of the teachers is overt and unabashed. In addition, everyone is so very Christian that they seem not to even understand that other religions exist. Forget about them understanding paganism... they seem not to even understand that there might be Muslims or Jews among their students or coworkers. After Miriam finishes telling me about the latest outrages, she goes inside and I hurry up and finish cleaning the coop. I note that little Cynthia now follows me, apparently using her sense of hearing. Thats a good skill for her to have if only we can find a hen to be her special friend. I go inside and let Gretchen and Dandelion out.
05:45 - 06-40 PM
I plop down on the hammock in Miriams work room (we share a bedroom but each have our own work rooms), talking with Miriam while Sheena stalks and then sits on my lap. [Im not sharing the intimate details of our conversations because shes not the one who agreed to catalog her day. I start sorting the socks that remain from when I did laundry earlier in the week. My back starts to hurt. I let Gretchen and Dandelion in and then sort more socks.
06:40 - 06:45 PM
Miriam points out that sunset is upon us, which I had neglected to notice due to my obsessive concern with properly matching the white socks. I rush outside to close up the chickens. This entails carrying Dolly and Cynthia back in, standing around while the last few stragglers (generally, Simone and Lucky) enjoy the evening for a few moments before retiring, and then closing each of the three doors to the coop. Of course, I always say good night to everyone. Tonight, I also suggest that they cuddle up because its going to be a cool night. Then I have to go looking for any eggs laid outside. A few of the hens use a hollowed out tree trunk as a nest but the number of eggs there has been declining. That might be because its getting cooler (hens naturally stop laying for the winter) but might also be because a new and improved hiding place has been found. I speculate where that hiding place may be. I suspect that Simone and maybe Railroad have been jumping the fence to lay their eggs in or around the front yard but I cant catch them at it or find the hiding place. I give up and go in. Per usual, all the dogs then rush out to see what all the commotion was about (chickens are pretty noisy when they are settling in for the night).
06:45 - 07:15 PM
I finish sorting the socks, joke around with Miriam, and then lounge on the couch deciding what to do next.
07:15 - 08:45 PM
The dogs come in and we go out. We get in the pickup with Miriam driving. The moon is huge. We love and adore the moon. We drive along in silence then turn on 91.3 to listen to Fresh Air. Miriam is annoyed, per usual, by Terry Gross. She wonders, per usual, why Terry Gross chooses to interview so many more men than women. We change stations. We stop for beer at my favorite roadside spot. The owners have been totally screwed by the Fruitland town council at the behest of the new Walmart. So, I buy my beer from them whenever I can. But, today we need dog food too, which means Walmart. I wait in the truck suddenly so sleepy that I must lay down on the extremely uncomfortable seat. I drift off and then feel very vulnerable when Miriam wakes me up. We drive to the local Chinese/Japanese (yes, both) restaurant for take-out vegetarian sushi. Again I wait in the truck and again I am so sleepy that I have to lay down. When Miriam gets back, I jump up like sleeping is a crime or maybe the crime would be to make her wait even a moment to get in. Probably I am just very hungry and sleepy, the combination of which tends to make me feel like a very vulnerable child. Miriam drives us home.
08:45 - 09:00 PM
We lug everything in and put away away the purchases while also setting up the table for dinner and feeding the dogs. Miriam remarks that she likes it how we automatically cooperate on such daily tasks. It is nice.
09:00 - 09:45 PM
We eat and talk. I worry about all of the things I have left undone.
09:45 - 09:55 PM
I have a smoke and jot down notes. [Ive been smoking all along, just not noting it.] While Im at it, I check my e-mail and check the latest news from Palestine. I really am very worried about this war.
09:55 - 11:30
Miriam and I play scrabble. Because I concentrate so fiercely, I dont think of anything else. That is relaxing for me. I win but, for the first time in my life, am truly uncomfortable with that. I keep going over my math just in case I can find some more points for Miriam. Instead, I find that I made a mistake in her favor. I try to hide that from her but she figures it out anyway. We laugh and have a pretty good time. We pack up the game and go to bed.