Some things are just plain hard to live without. Toilet paper. For some of us, a cup of coffee in the morning. A warm bed at night. Chocolate. A hug now and then.
I would add to those necessities a flock of chickens. We had a flock of chickens while our kids were growing up, and I swear those chickens kept our house running smoothly. We almost always had enough eggs. They gobbled up all our kitchen garbage. Chickens, I assure you, will eat anything, including egg shells.
But they also gave us the ultimate gift. They fertilized our garden. We had two large chicken pens that ran side by side, and each pen had a separate entrance door into the small chicken house. One year the chickens wandered and scratched and pooped on one side while the vegetables grew on the other side. The next year, we switched them around. My mother always claimed that chicken manure was the absolute best for a garden. After those years of gardening in a chicken pen, I know she was right. Since the chickens also packed down the earth in a year, it took some rototilling each spring, but we had terrific crops year after year without any other fertilizing.
If you drive north this time of year to the Skagit Valley, up near Mt. Vernon, you will likely see a field covered with flocks of snow geese. If you’re lucky you’ll see a smaller group of white trumpeter swans. Those fields of beautiful, elegant birds are one of the valley’s main tourist attractions–along with the tulips, of course.
“Heads up, start watching–we’ll see some soon!” Once we start descending into the valley on the interstate, we start scanning the fields and horizon. If we’re really lucky, one will fly low, just above the car.
These rich farmlands are a favorite spot for geese and swans that stop off on their long migration routes. They’re heading south from their nesting grounds in Alaska and Siberia. They hang out between November and early spring and feed on marsh plants in the intertidal area, but they also spend a lot of time on the farmlands.
I had always believed (with my background of keeping chickens) that these birds must be a terrific boon for the farmers. Not so, according to an article published in the Everett Herald in 2007. Farmers do admit that the fertilizer is one of the only good things these birds leave behind. They also eat any crops that might be planted, moving inland from swamp grass to their new favorite diet–pasture grass. The farmers do not love them nearly as much as we sightseers do. It’s estimated that more than 50,000 birds stop and winter over in the Skagit Valley.
I still can’t help but believe that fields like this one later in the spring owe some of their beauty to the snow geese and swans!
“When we come upon beautiful things….they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space.” –Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just.