I’ve Heard There Was a Secret Chord
I had a dream about the eggs last night.
But before we get into all that, I want to tell you about why. I think the dream could only have occurred from working at the farm. There were things I could know only from touching the eggs, walking in the grass, moving across its landscape, breathing the air.
Reality first. I come over early in the morning to help Chickenman move one of the chicken shelters. The idea is to intern there: to learn how to be a farmer. Before we move the shelter, I go to collect eggs from the sleeping area on the ground and put them in the nesting area. Yes, it is a lot like Easter, except all the eggs are for me to find, and it isn't even 8 a.m. yet. The earth is saturated from the four inches of rain the previous night, and this too lends the experience a dreamlike quality. I carry the eggs to the nesting areas to be collected later.
At the barn, Chickenman gives me a book, the page held with his finger. “I read this today and thought it would be appropriate for you.” A Chinese character, and next to it, the word “immediate.” It says that silk being submerged into a vat of dye continues to be silk, it simply absorbs its new experience and lets itself be changed in that way. Like the silk, I should let myself be changed but accept myself the way I am. Whoa.
I nod, glance at the cover. Everyday Tao. Chickenman smiles. “Good toilet reading.”
Pepper doesn’t have any milk. She hopped the electric fence when Chickenman tried to get her to come to the barn. "See," he says, “She's very nimble when she wants to be.”
Pepper and her calf, Creampuff, have been separated so that Pepper can produce milk for the family again. Pepper kind of freaks me out. She is huge. She is even bigger than the bull. Brownie, the bull, is going to be processed this week. Chickenman seems very depressed by the idea. He tells me that he’s had Brownie since the bull was little, that he doesn’t want to process him really, it’s just that he’s become troublesome on the farm — tearing things up, even escaping once. He adds that he’d had a friend who tried to raise chickens for food and couldn’t kill them.
I wonder if he will be able to eat Brownie’s meat. I wonder if I would. After all, I’ve never eaten an animal I’d actually met before, the fact that I was scared shitless of him notwithstanding.
While we are putting up the electric fence, we see Pepper over where she oughtn’t be. “We may have to go get her,” he says.
We end up following her through a tiny wooded area, where she is reunited with Brownie and Creampuff. We hear voices nearby, and Chickenman ends up talking to some surveyors who have lost their way.
Surveyors only mean one thing. “They want everything dead first,” says Chickenman. Then they roll out their grass and pavement, drop their houses from the sky. But for now, there are lost surveyors on his property, and he walks them over to where they need to be, while I wait. And wait. At first, I am bored. I’m looking at the cows, and even they seem bored.
I’m trying to get a good picture of the bull, since I probably won’t see him again, but he’s behind a tree. He has the coolest orange stripe down his back. (I wish I had a picture of it.) I’m taking pictures to avoid being bored, and then I realize, “I’m standing here, looking at cows!” I’ve never stood somewhere and looked at cows before. I watch them, and they eat grass, move around, nuzzle, brush against trees, stare at me, pee. It’s suddenly the most fascinating thing in the world. Creampuff comes right up to me and seems very friendly, but I’m still intimidated, thinking that Pepper will go crazy and attack me suddenly. I snap her picture and step back. I don’t want to go out that way.
When I meet up with Chickenman again, we head back to finish putting up the electric fence for the grazing area. On the way back, Honey steps into a puddle and we see a flash of orange in the muddy water. “Today would be a good day to watch out for rattlesnakes,” he had told me earlier. So I have been constantly on edge. I feel like an old lady awake in her bed, thinking each house-creak is a burglar. I keep thinking the cicadas are rattles.
Was that flash of orange a snake? Chickenman peers into the cloudy puddle. “It’s a baby snake … No, it’s a crab… It’s a crawdad!” He reaches into the water and holds it up, grins. “You never know what you’re going to find on the farm. I could have you come down here every single day and do the same thing and you would still be surprised every day.” I think it must be some kind of magic that a crawdad appeared out of nowhere. It feels magical, even later when I find out that they hibernate up to 10 feet underground.
I do one last chore before going home. I fill the trays in the egg incubator with water. “Yeah, I noticed that the water was getting a little low, and I almost filled it up, then I thought, I’d better let you do it,” Chickenman says. So I do, and I feel excited. He adds that his first batch didn’t have too great of a turnout. He’s hoping, and I am too, that this batch will be different.
I go home a little sore, but fine, really. My shoes are way too muddy and my car has a big stripe of mud on it from where I slid off the path. My husband comes home and I serve up the eggplant casserole I made, just a simple dish, nothing too exciting. I chat excitedly about the farm, we watch half of a really bad movie and go to bed.
The following morning, right before I wake up, I dream about the eggs.
I was in a garden in a house I’d just bought — a kind of alcove of trees. I was sorting through the eggs, turning them around in my fingers. On the bench was a photo album of all of my wedding pictures. I was going to go sort them out, but I wanted to look at the eggs first. I was smiling, holding one of the eggs, loving even its dirtiness, its difference from all of the other eggs.
I turned toward the bench and saw my friend Minnie sitting there with her hands in her lap. Minnie, my friend who just died this May. I couldn't believe my luck, that she was here.
“Hi,” I exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“Why, I came to see what you were up to.” She smiled.
“Well here,” I said, “look at this.” I carried over three eggs. I looked down and saw that the eggs were all gnarled and ridged, like pieces of driftwood. Uh-oh, I thought, she’s not going to believe these are good eggs.
“Wow,” she said, “those are crazy! Very beautiful though.”
“Yes, you should taste them.”
“Any time you like,” she said. We stood there smiling at each other, and then I woke up.
I think that farm really got under my skin.
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