I finally got into my backyard to work this weekend, the first real workday of spring, and the damage was worse than I imagined.
I had seen it all first hand in drips and drabs as I slogged out to feed and water the chickens in the deep snow, to clean their coop every week, to shovel and rake here and there.
But this weekend I spent serious time looking at the damage the birds had done over the winter and it was impressive. There was not a scrap of mulch in any of my beds, holes were scratched here and there for dust bathing or worm hunting, and escape tunnels had been dug by the girls under the fence and hastily patched by my wife and daughter.
In short, my backyard looked like a bomb hit it. Three, feathered bombs named Shawna, Tessa and Dot, to be exact.
I enjoy getting into the back yard this time of year to put my beds in order, plant a few veggies, maybe add a plant here and there. This year I was dreading it. I knew the birds could make a mess. I had read on chicken chat boards that chickens had been known to destroy every plant they could reach; even cactus are not immune. But still, the real-life extent of what a few, relatively small, birds could do had not really come home till now.
But there was hope. Some of my hostas (that I had thought were casualties of the poultry invasion) were popping up. My Japanese ribbon grass that I was sure the birds had devoured and destroyed was sprouting in two places. What little lawn I had before the birds came seemed to be greening up and filling out here and there.
My daughter, who is often my boon companion when it comes to gardening, rolled out of bed fairly early Saturday and we hit Lowe’s to get some plants and a rake. We chose tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers and watermelons for our raised beds and bought a ton of seeds but only planted a few bush beans in a small spot we had available. To the veggies, we added four hostas (they were on sale) and some ferns (also on sale) and we wheeled all our stuff out to my beat-up old car.
Back home we cleaned the one big bed that my daughter planted years ago for her felines to lounge in that’s mysteriously called The Cat Garden. We added the new hostas and ferns to the plants and various grasses that were popping up here and there. We washed all her statues, including a little angel and set them back up.
By then my eager assistant was pretty much done, so I sent her inside to commune with her computer. I finished up cleaning the side beds, ran the mower, and staggered into the house a few hours later for a much-needed shower.
When I felt human again, I put my grungy shoes on and wandered back into the backyard to survey my domain. I’d forgotten to really scrub the porch but I’d swept it pretty well so it could hold till next week. There was the lawn furniture that’s needed new paint and cushions for nearly two years now. I’d deal with that next week too.
The chickens walked with me, bocking and murmuring as I strolled. They looked pretty in the yard, lovely, living accent pieces, moving across the green of the grass.
I lingered in The Cat Garden, admiring how my daughter had rearranged her statuary. I looked closely to make sure the birds had not already started to undo our work and thankfully, I saw no damage, though the bed looked a little bereft without mulch. Next week, I thought.
Circling back, I walked up to the vegetable beds. All plants were intact. No observable fowl foul-play. Then I saw it. Deep scratches near where we planted the bush beans. Nothing catastrophic but, it seemed to me, the mark might have been a bit of a warning, like a dagger sunk into a wall, pinning a threatening note to hardwood.
I squatted down and the chickens surrounded me. I stared at them. They stared back, the big red chicken, Tessa, bowing down like she does when she thinks you’re going to reach out and pet her.
So, I reached out and petted her.
I wondered if Adam shared his garden with chickens. I imagine he did. But I wonder, just wonder, what the birds might have been like.
Were they respectful of Adam’s handiwork? Did they only scratch in designated areas? Were chickens perfect before the fall?
I suspect so. Though I think my girls might still have a bit of the perfect chicken still in them, somewhere deep and close to their bones. At least in between all the mischief, I get a bow now and again.