The catalyst to our journey for a more self-sufficient life was the summer of 2013, when The Kid asked if we could keep a few chickens. At that point I had already found a passion and peace in growing fruits and vegetables. I had dabbled in canning but that was as far as we had gone, until we discovered the joys of chicken keeping. It seemed, in unison, the idea of homesteading and sustainable living went off like a light bulb for the 3 of us. We looked at our small flock of laying birds and liked the idea of building a flock that could sustain themselves as well as us. Have enough eggs to sell weekly to earn the money needed to buy the feed and supplies, hatch a few to sell and replenish the flock as needed and eat those that needed culling for whatever various reasons.
So excited that we were, we talked a great deal, to anyone who would listen, about our grand dreams of one day having land and building a self-sufficient homestead. There were a few who got it, understood the need for such a lifestyle, more who mostly were silent, likely due to the need to stifle the laughter we had invoked with our silly talk, remember, we live in So. California, surrounded by instant gratification and everything within easy reach. More often than not, the response we have come across has been one of head shaking incredulity. It seems as though we speak a foreign language when we talk about baking our own breads, growing and canning produce and the desire to raise the meat we choose to feed our family. The meat raising has been the topic of some conversations that have left all parties involved shaking their heads at the concepts coming out of the other.
There is one particular conversation that sticks out in my mind. In the early part of 2014 we had with a couple of our dearest friends over for dinner. These two exude a boundless compassion for animals and their welfare far beyond the average person. The great lengths they have gone to at times to rescue and care for an animal in need could easily be described as Saint like. Out spoken and determined, these two will go to bat for an animal without a moments hesitation. So imagine how the subject of harvesting animals we hand raised went down. Keep in mind, we are all omnivores in this conversation, not vegans or even vegetarian. Travis and I tried and tried with our words to get the two of them to see things the way we see them. We talked about the horrible lives lived by the animals who’s meat we purchase from the grocery stores. Without sounding exasperated we continued to attempt to drive home the concept that animals raised by our hand, for our table would be raised with love, compassion and respect. These animals would have a good life, with only one bad day. As opposed to the factory animals who’s only peace comes with their death. In return we were informed these two animal lovers would rather turn a blind eye to the deplorable existence their market meat animals had suffered from start to finish. They would continue to eat that meat and simply put the thought out of their mind that everything they stood against they were willing to ignore for the sake of meat on the menu. After much debate we all agreed to disagree and leave it at that.
Fast forward to Easter, the same two friends, along with my brother and Cousin N gathered at our home for dinner, as we do every Easter. This year we had the added excitement of chicks hatching. This was a first for our guests and the air was filled with wonder and merriment, like Christmas morning with young children. We had chicks popping up under a first time broody and an incubator full in the house. No one was immune to all the fluffy new life.
We all took turns peeking in on the goings on, counting the tiny balls of fluff. As with any birth, not all goes according to the well laid plan. It was soon discovered there was a chick with the broody who was in bad shape. I chose to intervene, carefully removing the chick to a tea cup in the incubator and held my breathe as I checked in on it periodically. It didn’t take long for me to understand this chick was not going to survive.
I had two choices, I could either leave it to die on it’s own or I could end it’s suffering quickly. Normally I would just make the call and get it done. But it was Easter and I was surrounded by people who I felt would not understand my need to handle the situation as I saw fit. After much internal debate I finally came to the conclusion that I couldn’t just stand by and watch this little creature die a slow, agonizing death. Watching it struggling to live was more than my heart could bare. I talked to Trav, he understood and would do whatever I needed to do. Before I could do anything, I had to have the hard talk with one of the friends. She had to know what I needed to do. It was important to me that she understand why I was about to end the short life of this tiny soul. She told me she could tell by the expression on my face that this choice had not been arrived at with ease. She understood I was doing right by the chick and gave me the go ahead.
Once I had dealt with that heavy task I took a moment for myself, away from the group, to gather myself and shake off the loss. Our friend found me, saw the tears in my eyes and pulled me into her embrace. I briefly wept over this loss, I could still feel the slight weight of the chick in my hands as the life left its tiny body. In this moment between friends, on opposite sides of the line something happened, this friend started to grasp what was in my heart. What I had talked myself blue in the face to explain just a couple months prior. In this one moment her heart could clearly see what was in my heart. This one bit of action had explained what all the words could not.
That evening, on their way home, the two talked about the events of the day. When the topic turned to the chick who had been struggling, it was only then that the other friend learned what had transpired while she played dominoes with the girls. The next day I received a text from her. She told me she had heard what I had had to do and that she understood it took great courage and strength. She told me she was proud of me and that I had done what she never would have been able too. I cannot tell you the enormity of the emotions that swelled in me when I read those words. I felt like she too, though not an actual witness, was able to finally get a glimpse at my true heart.
Let’s skip ahead to this past weekend, nearly a year since that first dialog. We gathered for dinner at our place again. Of course the topic of raising meat came up. We were in talks with another friend about possibly raising some pork. Travis and I were giddy with the idea. This time when the subject came up I quietly cringed as I really didn’t want to have another heated debate over this matter. I knew where they stood, they know where we stand. I physically tensed when Trav broached the topic. It was our Friend Christmas dinner, I didn’t want a debate over the dinner table. This just wasn’t the day for that. So I turned away from the conversation that the 3 of them were ensconced in. But then, while sitting at the far end of the table, my ears heard something so unreal I had to interrupt the talks so I could verify that I had really heard those words come out of her mouth. The same person whom a year ago had said they would rather eat vegetarian when visiting us than to eat anything we had raised that had a face and a name had just said “I would rather not eat pork till I was here to eat what you have raised”. Um, WHAT??!!? She looks me in the eye and says “I get it now. I get it Jenn. I get what you are doing.”
No words came from my mouth, just tears from my eyes. Tears for relief, tears for joy, tears for success. It is an incredible realization to discover that the life we have chosen to live can have, and is having, a profound effect on those around us. That summer, when we cast our stone into the pond of self reliant living, we never imagined how far the ripples would go and who or what they would reach. We never set out with the intention of changing anyone but ourselves. I am overwhelmed with a profound mix of emotions. As intense as my feelings for why I choose to live as I do. In seeing the change affected in others by our choices it boomerangs right back to me, filling me with immense determination and pride. We have reached this one person. I understand and accept that we won’t ever reach every person, but at least I know we can reach some or maybe even just this one. But it’s one more than there was yesterday and we had a hand in that change.