Still Life with ChickensNovember 6, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
Tags: chickens, eggs, The Grail in the USA, The International Grail Movement
So you haven’t heard from me in a while because I’m in Loveland, Ohio, outside Cincinnati, at the tri-annual general assembly of the US Grail, a branch of the International Grail. The Grail is a women’s movement in seventeen countries around the world. We’re meeting at the Grail’s organic farm and conference center. I’ve been coming here since I was a college student, in the late sixties.
The topics addressed at the meeting are pretty interesting—Thursday, the Grail’s enviironmental work, Friday our work at the United Nations, particularly with the Commission on the Status of Women, and Saturday, our spirituality. But to tell you the truth, what I’ve really been thinking about is chickens.
Now just so you know, I’m a city girl. I was born in a city, and have lived in cities for most of my adult life. When I was a kid, my Mom and Dad used to take me to Manhattan on a Trailways bus (my Uncle Hughie worked for Trailways and got us free tickets). They’d walk me around and tell me that New York is the greatest place on earth. I believed them.
So perhaps you can imagine my amazement when I found myself on a farm in Lovelend, Ohio, circa 1974, in charge of a coop full of chickens. The Grail had, since it’s US founding in the early 1940s, been deeply involved in the back-to the-land movement and the Catholic Rural Life Conference. For many years (but no more) in order to join the Grail you went to the Grailville farm and got formed. My experience with the chickens was at the tail end of the formation-on-the-farm era.
I was really terrible with the chickens. Let’s be clear: I’m a writer. I basically make my way from the library to the computer to the coffee pot and back. The chickens baffled me. When I brought the bucket of food into the chicken coop, the chickens would be in the manger (or whatever you call it). I would put down the bucket and shoo them out. By the time I picked up the bucket again, they’d be back in the manger. They were not responsive to reason. I also regularly left the lights on in the chicken coop. The rooster would crow in the middle of the night. The people in the house closest to the chicken coop would then call me and I had to walk over and turn off the lights.
Before long, one of the Grail women in leadership sent for me and said it seemed that the chickens were not my greatest strength, and so, instead, would I please compile an inclusive language prayer book for the Grailville community. I did so, and basically, never looked back. Within the next decade I co-authored a series of books that grew out of a series of feminist theology programs we had at Grailville.
So why, you may ask, am I thinking of chickens this week, between sessions on climate change and the UN? Because while I’m here I’m staying with a Grail friend who lived here on the farm with me in the seventies, and then married the son of a local Grail member, had a family, and lives down the road. She’s a fabric artist, and her husband runs his own construction company, but in previous years, he was a farmer. Soon after I arrived, Becky announced, with some enthusiasm, that she and Pat are now raising chickens. She took me out to the ingeniously designed coop and showed them to me. There are eight of them, and a rooster, and they lay eight eggs a day. But there’s no manger, and no lights, either. They mostly eat vegetable waste left over from the family meals. Becky says that if you don’t wash the eggs, you don’t even have to refrigerate them. I think I’m going to eat a couple of them for breakfast, for old time’s sake.