I do like a little hen indeed.

“We kept good hens out in the back, brown and white, and some good layers from my father’s sisters that were black. There is happy our hens. All day they peck for sweet bits in the ground, twice they come for corn, and in the mornings they shout the roof off to have you come and see their eggs. And no trouble to anybody.

“I do like a little hen indeed. A minder of her own business always, and very dainty in her walk and ways….”

That is a clipping from How Green Was my Valley, by Richard Llewellyn, which I am currently reading/listening to. The narrator is Ralph Cosham, whose rich British voice perfectly accompanies the author’s prose to double the amount of atmosphere evoked. What a wonderful story! I’d never read the book before, and I’m not sure I ever saw the movie. I have probably seen fewer movies than anyone I know.

Many such short passages make me wish that I were reading the novel in print, so that I could underline them, and have an easier time copying them to share. But I’m not, so I won’t. Instead, I hit the replay button from time to time and pause whatever I’m doing to listen more carefully, in love with the sentences and the scenes and the Morgan Family.

Probably because of all the people I know who during the pandemic especially enjoyed their chickens, or started keeping chickens for the first time, I also began longing to have chickens again. I walked around my property eyeing every nook and cranny, but concluded once again, sadly, that every spot is taken. Any ground not being used by plants or furniture or greenhouse did not qualify on account of being sweltering hot, or too close to the clothesline, where I wouldn’t want chicken dust.

If I had found room I could have taken quick possession of the healthiest year-old hens you ever saw, Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks, that one friend had to give away, a flock of ten that he had acquired as day-old chicks during covid. I did get to eat eighteen of their eggs; they were the best I’d ever tasted, and I have tasted lots of home-raised eggs.

Instead, I sent word to friends all over the county (and into the next county), everyone I could think of going back 40 years that I’d ever known to keep livestock. I finally found a good home for those girls. And for myself, I will go back to my dream and plan of raising worms. I do have the perfect spot for them, whom I imagine are the tiniest breed of livestock….

You would think that in thirteen years of keeping chickens I would have a few good photos of them, but it was in the days before digital cameras, and I couldn’t waste film on targets that moved the way chickens are likely to do. But I did locate this one above, the three older children in the 80’s, each holding one of their pullets. It’s almost the opposite of the kind of picture I wish I had, because adolescent chickens are inelegant, and these that you can barely see in the shade are definitely in the gawky stage. But it does show that we enjoyed our hens.

Until yesterday our area of California had been miraculously, blessedly free of wildfire smoke. Smoke from our fires out West was drifting all the way to the East Coast, and plaguing most of my children and many friends on the way — but not coming here. But yesterday it arrived. I don’t know which fire it is from. Once again, I have friends who lost their home, this time in the Dixie Fire 200 miles north of me. I’m sure that the personal connection increases weight that was already on my heart; I’m finding it hard to focus on anything and apply myself. It is some sweet relief to see in my mind’s eye the dainty hens in the Green Valley, when I visit vicariously in the coal mining town in Wales.

Another heartening little thing that surprised me today was a volunteer zinnia. I still haven’t cleaned up my planter boxes where most of my vegetables usually grow. In one box the parsley, hyssop and chamomile have all grown into a seedy jungle, and in the other a single zinnia plant sprouted in secret under the squashes and Painted Lady beans and grew up spindly toward the light.

May the Lord’s grace light our way and warm our souls.

But for you who fear my name,
the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.
You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Malachi 4

11 thoughts on “I do like a little hen indeed.

  1. What a heartwarming post. I have read ‘How Green is my Valley’ – after having watched the black and white series (or perhaps our TV wasn’t a colour one yet!) on television. What an interesting tale it is! I have seen snippets of the fires in California, Greece and Turkey and I do wonder about you. To lose one’s home must be devastating. I am glad you photographed the zinnia – a sign of hope indeed.

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  2. That’s a sweet photo! Our first set of chickens were like pets, however, this current set, not socialized as much and we didn’t name them. I didn’t realize there were more wild fires and smoke!

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  3. Sorry the smoke has come your way. I hope it moves on very soon.

    How Green was my Valley sounds like a book both myself and my DH enjoy and I immediately went to the library site and requested both the book ( large print, YAY) and the movie. The audio book is also available and come winter I think I’ll request that too. Thanks for mentioning it.

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  4. My husband has been following the Dixie fire. Up until recently the smoke has been a thick blanket here, one you could taste. A short rainstorm and a couple days of wind from the right direction have cleared the skies for now, we actually saw stars last night! First time since the beginning of July. I’m quite sorry it’s now hovering over you!

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  5. I love your volunteer zinnia. A sign of life. And your reflections on chickens are wonderful. I suspect I wouldn’t be a good chicken mom but I love the concept so very much. I hope the fires stay far from you. They’re frightening indeed.

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  6. Now you have me watching the 1941 version of How Green Was My Valley! I think I need to own this one. I’m in love! Must read the book now. Oh, man, those fires never seem to end! I don’t know how y’all can stand it. Makes me think of what it was like during the “dust bowl” years in the Midwest. Misery upon misery and only bits of relief because of so little rain on a terrain that was already so frail (man-made in that instance).

    I’ve always wanted to keep chickens, but never have. My parents had them when I was a kid (and my mother still keeps them), and it was such a joy to collect the eggs. The chickens were so comical, and the bantams were very snuggly. Loved those times.

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  7. Hello! I have seen the old movie and I remember reading that book years ago, there are good thoughts about them both. Hens: we kept a flock when we lived on the farm and I absolutely love chickens. I could just sit and watch them for hours. We allowed them to free range because our farm was so private and that was an added bonus. At night they would go into their coop right before dark and we would shut them up. But like you I am not able to have hens here, but I want to. My husband said it would be more expensive to keep them than to buy good eggs at the market, that is true.

    I was extremely interested in vermiculture last year and was hoping to put my hand into trying it. But as of this date I have not. I will be interested in watching you on this journey, and I m might even be inspired!

    And I am concerned about those wildfires… it seems this is an annual concern for all of you.

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