The Visitor

by Christine Adams Beckett

Last April, while playing with my kids in our backyard, we were visited by a strutting chicken wearing what appeared to be an afro of feathers.  In the middle of suburbia, this was a tad unusual, even with the ever-increasing sensitivity to Michael Pollan-inspired ethical eating in our very liberal-minded Montclair.  By some strike of extremely good fortune, the Pooch was not outside when our visitor arrived, but her keen canine sensibilities were ignited.  Flinging herself at the back door, fearfully close to breaking her neck on one of the glass panes, she whined as if in physical pain.

The inevitable followed: “PLEASE, Mommy, can we keep it?”  A simple point in the general direction of the convulsing animal trying her best to break our door down was answer enough.  Half the occupants in our house don’t even like eggs without a mound of cottage cheese to mask their existence.  And if we were in the market for any farm animals, it was a cow: a nice holstein who was much bigger than the Pooch and could provide a few less trips to King’s Supermarket, as we seem to have been going through eight gallons of milk a week.  That’s a significant monthly milk allowance, especially if you buy organic.  But I digress…

A quick facebook posting pleading all villagers to educate me as to near-by chicken keepers brought forth an unexpected response: there were far more than just one.  As a matter of fact, there is a whole Montclair United Chicken Keepers Collective — also known as MUCKS — run by the president of my son’s PTA, Grace Chow Grund.  (I can honestly say now that I have no idea where Grace finds the time.  She should probably be running the country, not the Renaissance School PTA, The Terra Tea Salon at our local library, the green team for the local Montessori Magnet school, all the while raising four kids.  She is also always cheerful, smiling and bright.  She is most aptly named.  A halo of gold literally shines above Grace’s head.)

Turns out, our feathered visitor lives just around the corner from us and is called Georgia, a Polish crested hen known for her delicious white eggs.  Her owner let my son carry her home to her back yard coop, where four other productive ladies had taken up residence.  My daughter inquired about a rooster, the possibility of tiny downy chicks being too irresistible to leave without inquiry.  The response was unexpected, turning my daughter’s complexion a distinct shade of green: “We ate him before the neighbors put their house on the market.  He was making too much noise at an unGodly hour.”

UnGodly indeed.  I have just finished hard boiling a dozen store-bought eggs to dye on Good Friday with my brood.  It’s seems logical enough that in our culture,  the holiest of Christian holidays is coupled with a Springtime pagan ritual of welcoming eggs back onto the table.  King’s Supermarket offers them all year long now, but when we were wholly self-reliant and bound by local cycles of life for our nourishment, eggs were unavailable during the cold months.  Georgia and her friends would not lay eggs during the winter; productive, regular ovulation is restored come April when the weather warms and the world welcomes new life, and when those preparing the table praises Everlasting Life.