I find myself wielding a machete behind the barn in my pajamas. Maybe this is not the perfect tool for this job, but it feels right. I am a ninja, swinging my heavy blade. I am an Amazon woman. I am a Jedi knight. Regret this tomorrow, I will.
It is a grey-sky, damp-air day, warm for November. A breeze touches the tall grass and dead goldenrod as I whack them. Without leaves on the trees, the underneath layers of the farm seem more complex, more beautiful. The wetland stands out, green-bronze below, topped with silver branches. The ground I am clearing undulates, perhaps deeply rutted from past heavy equipment, so it has escaped the bush hog. It is surrounded by half-naked trees and rusty-tufted sumac and leaning, disconnected fenceposts. I am hacking a path for the electronet fence.
Our laying hens’ dissatisfaction with their current accommodations has inspired my madness. A week ago, I exerted Hurculean effort to push their A-frame tractor uphill to fresh pasture, thinking they had exhausted the fun and nutrition from their enclosure on our defunct tomato patch. I thought they’d be grateful. I underestimated them.
First, they were loathe to leave the garden area, where we’ve rotated their house all summer. After prolonged, humiliating coaxing, most of the chickens crossed the road. Seven refused, deciding the gravel of our driveway was the devil. Six of these allowed me to scoop them under my arms and carry them across the Driveway Styx. Beardo did not.
Beardo, an Americauna with the dark whiskers of a lumberjack, required a slide tackle. In the process, Stella nicknamed her Roadrunner. I would’ve thrown up my hands and wished her luck finding the flock on her own, but a red-tailed hawk cruised nearby, and we needed leave to pick up Sam from school. With both of us muddy when she was finally under my arm, Beardo and I had words.
Since the big move, the hens have been flapping out of their electronet fencing several times daily. They prefer the garden, with long-dead sunflower stalks and bare dirt, to the pasture, with more exposure and no vertical structures. In the new location, Stella observes, the wind blows their butts wide open.
These birds now have no qualms about breaching the driveway to run all over the place. I don’t begrudge them their freedom, but it separates them from their food, water, and nest boxes, making them more vulnerable to predators.
This morning, I look out the kitchen window and see half the chickens down in the garden, with several hens scratching towards the road. Fine, ladies. Fine. I stuff my feet into muck boots and head outside to lure them back to safety—except Beardo, who I refuse to chase this time—and to move their house and yard under the trees.
Careful to keep my attentive dog behind me, I grip the machete, swinging from my shoulder. Knees bent, feet apart, I lean into the moment. I feel a little stiff. There are other things I should be doing. My coffee is definitely getting cold on the kitchen table, but I’m having too much fun to go back inside.