On A Personal Note

Some of the best advice any writer can take is to write what you know. I try to keep that in mind during those weeks when there’s not much to say.

The problem with writing what I know is that with every passing year, I seem to know less. There was a time, for example, when I thought I knew a little about markets. A lot of us think we do when the rising tide raises all vessels, but today, markets are irrational. Some boats seem to levitate ever higher while the economic tide recedes like a beach just before a tsunami. This I know – but it doesn’t take long to say that, so best to write about something else.

There was a time when I knew quite a lot about information technology and computer hardware. Funny how when you start doing what interests you for a paycheck, that interest can quickly sour, but now that I don’t make my living herding electrons, my interest is once again on the rise. Unfortunately I don’t want to spoil it by having to write about it.

For a number of years I made my living as a wilderness guide and counselor in a career that combined both interests. I stayed with it about three times the average 4 year burnout period, and while I didn’t get completely burned out, I did get scorched around the edges. OK maybe I did get burned out. It’s hard not to when you’re dealing with one group after another of angry and dysfunctional human beings while sleeping on the ground in a damp sleeping bag. So I stepped away from that career. But after resting on the plate like a filet of blackened trout I discovered that there was some flavor left under the crust.

That’s why I still write about the wilderness from time to time and occasionally delve into human behavior, though I barely know enough about those subjects to blacken a sardine. I still love the wilderness. Human behavior, not so much. In fact, it’s a good thing that God loves the world because if it were up to me, the world would be out of luck, and while we’re being frank, loving my neighbor as myself is the best I can manage on a good day – and I don’t have a lot of neighbors.

My friends have often heard me say that I don’t like people very much, but I care a great deal for persons. People can be very lovable in person or in small groups. When you start stacking them together, however, you’re going to run into problems. Group dynamics. The behavior of most people tends to change in a group setting. Like chickens.

As it turns out, I do know something about chickens. And bees. Chickens are somewhat predictable. Bees…do what bees do. Like cats. So let’s talk about birds and bees, and chickens.

It has been a beautiful week on the farm. The bees are busy with partridge pea and the hummingbirds have discovered the jewel weed by the frog pond. They are both working tirelessly during this time of abundance and the meadow is filled with a contented buzz.

We’ve had a rainy year – a rainforesty rainy year. The algae on the deck has algae growing on it. This is the greenest blooming September I remember in a long time, and while those who can, make hay while the sun shines, weather delays have put us behind schedule in the construction of our new chicken house. As a result, the chicken herd has started to outgrow their temporary accommodations and they are beginning to experience social unrest in their relatively urban setting.

When they were small and innocent with plenty of elbow room (assuming that chickens have elbows) they were peaceful and content and awfully cute. Now that they are bigger, hungrier and more opinionated, The “Pecking Order Syndrome” has disrupted their mostly peaceful pursuits, and they are acting out in mostly peaceful protest. Mostly. Occasionally feathers do fly.

Lately they have evolved their language to include some unkind and inflammatory pejoratives. Yesterday I heard, “Baraaaahhck buck buck buck buck buck…SKANK!!!” (“Skank” is shrieked about an octave above high C, and it means about the same in Chickenese as it does in English.)The argument was between two hens who wanted the same piece of greenery.

Understand that we enhance their diet with bundles of stilt weed and grass – they love it, and it is plentiful. They have more than they can possibly eat, but every day now we hear squabbles and complaints and the stillness of these halcyon days is interrupted by cries of “Skank!” and “Peeeeewwwww!” (We haven’t translated that one yet.) The chickens have divided into groups of associates who only hang out with each other. I’m afraid they have formed political parties. Skank.

Which brings us back full circle to human behavior. Can we better understand politics and humanity by observing chickens? Group dynamics for chickens is fairly simple. It’s a matter of breed and greed. When they breed past a certain population density, their natural greed is aggravated to the point where it begins to affect their behavior. Like humans. We never hear about riots and looting in small towns.

Enough people understand that now that there is a push on to escape the crowded coops of the city for places with more elbow room. This could be a good thing, to a point, especially for the people doing the escaping. The trick is, for small towns and rural areas, places like ours where life is peaceful and good, to find that point, that formula that lets you know when the coop is crowded enough, because past that point, greed begins to bump up against greed and feathers start to fly.

I hope that doesn’t happen to all the little places we love in this beautiful area. Nothing against Gatlinburg, but if we wanted to live there, we would be there, and I would have a lot less wilderness to write about, and a lot more fowl behavior.

In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on the weather, and on the birds and bees and chickens around us – especially the bees. They might have something to tell us about what comes next in these interesting times.

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