Have you ever questioned every decision you’ve made that has brought you to a particular moment?
This is one of those stories and why I refuse to search chicken related hashtags for the rest of my life.
In the course of the move to the mid-west, the time came that our flock needed to be moved to my parent’s farm in Tennessee.
I gave away almost half of my girls. I got boxes and peanut crates for the birds to ride in. I made sure it would all fit in the car. I cut air holes. I planned to drive much of the trip at night so they would sleep. I got fresh microgreens from a friend so we could all eat healthy on the drive. I thought I was ready.
At 3 am I was in the coop picking up my remaining 16 sugar sugars (the technical term for my chickens) and putting them in the designated boxes. I closed the trunk on my small SUV and we left our Georgia farm, headed north for the 10 hour drive to west Tennessee.
I remember mentioning to a friend that hoped the AC held up in my car, even though it’s barely 2 years old, because the heat index up north was going to be 115 degrees. Remember this later in the story.
It was dark, the kids were awake but staring aimlessly out of the windows, forbidden to touch their tablets until the sun came up.
I turned on an audio book. Kate Raworth’s economic ideas would either bore them to sleep or make them a little wiser.
We passed the first coffee shop at 4. It wasn’t open.
I kept checking the boxes I could see. Everything looked fine.
A hen started to cluck a bit.
By 6:03, with children still awake and me struggling to stay that way, we pulled into a restaurant parking lot. The lights were on and people were moving about. Coffee felt eminent but first, it was time to check the temperature in the boxes to make sure the ac was sufficient.
Y’all. I stood in that parking lot, my pajama clad children by my side, opened that hatch and found the side of a box had collapsed, mortally wounding two of our babies.
The next 20 minutes were a blur. The birds were pulled from the boxes, children cried, I cried, people came to help put loose birds into my car, and the restaurant employees brought more boxes to help.
To see them getting out into the parking lot was akin to seeing fast, crawling babies scooting around in a parking lot. Thank heavens they were as confused as everyone else and were willing to be picked up by the only familiar thing they could see: us.
We got all the birds back in the car but I don’t remember all of it. I wanted to vomit. I can’t even describe the horror. I don’t even eat meat. My animals are family. I want to cry now just thinking about it.
It was the lowest moment in an already negatively stressful move. My body, which is usually on board with kicking life’s a**, was ready to fail via anxiety attack in a Panera parking lot. But I couldn’t. I had to postpone the complete breakdown and move on with the mission.
The birds would just have to make the next seven hours of drive time loose in the car with us. We were driving into a heat index of 115 and I would never be able to close the hatch with them back there. I put cardboard on the floors, a blanket over our clothes in the passenger seat and placed my daughter’s pillow, the one I’ve been dying to throw away, strategically to cover an open space between the front and back seat.
Twelve adult chickens take up a lot of space. They perched on the back of the bench seat where the kids sit. They sat on the console in between the kids. They hung out in the passenger seat, looked out the windows, sat by my shoulder, and on the kids’ laps.
They were particularly startling to other drivers who would glance over and then slow down and glance several more times before moving on. I pretended not to notice except for one instance where I acknowledged the oddness with a wry look and got the most disinterested expression I’ve ever seen.
The odor was slowly growing so we were traveling with the windows cracked, which drives me crazy because I hate noise and it makes my audio books hard to hear. That was less of an issue, however because I was far too upset to focus on linguistics or economics or any other person’s thoughts.
God help my parents, they called about this time with some cute, “Is this the chicken delivery car?” quip and I burst into ugly cry all over the stupid Bluetooth. They were caught off guard but I managed to get the story out. They got quiet. It was a short call.
We passed a cup of water around and offered all the birds a drink every 20 minutes. Birds drinking out of people cups is funny. The way they look at you when you offer it is slightly suspicious.
We stopped to potty. I stood behind my car offering water in a cup to the birds perched on the back of the back seat. A woman and two small children stopped to stare. I smiled and confirmed that these birds were chickens. They’d never seen them live and in person before. Buckhead. So, now, the only place these two urbanite kiddos have seen a chicken is drinking out of a Starbucks cup in a car. That’s believable.
As we rolled into the Appalachian foothills, the radio news droned on, the windows made their 77 mile an hour white noise and I stroked a hen next to me who wasn’t feeling well. If the trip was too much or she’d been hurt in the collapse, I wasn’t going to let her go out without every bit of comfort and assistance I could offer. I shielded her eyes from Chik-fil-a signs.
The temperature outside was now 88 and the air conditioner on my two-year-old vehicle stopped working. I saw the air coming out of the vents and knew something was wrong. I mean I SAW the air. It looked like steam and it was no longer cold. I called it. Or if you believe words in the universe make things happen, I worried about it and it freaking happened.
We stopped at the next rest area and pulled into the shade. I opened doors and the hatch, stationing the children strategically to prevent the birds from getting out while allowing for maximum air flow. There was a strong breeze and it really wasn’t bad. With the car off, we offered each bird another drink, avoided the eye contact of everyone walking their dogs and driving by with shocked looks, and waited for an incredibly long 20 minutes. I prayed for the AC to start working.
When we hit the road again, the AC came on strong. The relief was palpable. I don’t think I had been breathing for hours.
I set the temperature a few degrees higher than its lowest setting and kept the fan at half capacity. And, here is the kicker, I forbade opening the windows in the name of saving our precious cold air.
We were only halfway to our destination.
The weird thing about traveling with chickens is that, other than the poop, they are great travelers. Save your FB posts, I know someone made diapers for them but having upholstery deep cleaned is only slightly worse than bathing a chicken’s butt because it’s gotten caked up.
Seriously, though, they were still, cute, mostly quiet, and I liked having them around. Well, pretty much. I like novelty. I like big dogs, flashy horses, heirloom veggies, cars that don’t look like every other boring thing on the road, eccentric people, new ideas, houses that stand out and, apparently, traveling chickens.
Why did the chicken cross the road? Because she was being driven around in an SUV and had no choice.
Windows up was tough. If you’ve ever been in a car with kid flatulence or foot odor, imagine that and 14 pooping chickens (the two young birds remained crated next to me). Now put it all in a sealed bubble. Now feel sick to your stomach and have one of those kids ask how much longer until your destination. Now have a bird try to drink from your coffee so you can’t put it to your mouth. Now find a Starbucks only to discover it closed for renovation.
It was that.
There were a couple of highlights to this tragic circus on wheels.
At hour seven, the bird on the console between the children stood up. My son yelled, “She laid me an egg!” and sure as teats on a sow, she had dropped on egg in his cup holder. I handed him my phone so here you have a horrible photo of the blessed event and a smudge of blueberry pie he had shared with her:
And then, like a cosmic kiss, the bird who had tried to die came back. She sat up, then she stood up, then I cried…again. She’s a chicken so she just looked at me like she was studying something.
Twenty minutes to the end of the trip, everyone was a little restless. You can see it in my kids’ faces when I stopped for an espresso to get me through. It wasn’t until then that the birds decided that the ones in the front wanted to be in the back and the ones in the back wanted to see out front. So that was fun. And I always thought I’d die while trying to smack mosquitoes on the inside of my windshield.
God help the next person who complains to me about “a mess” or suggests my car isn’t clean because YOU HAVE NO IDEA. Chickens sitting perfectly still poop. Chickens walking and flying around spread it.
This is how being just completely done with everything and everyone feels. But, my hurt hen was sitting with me and we kept going.
And the time came that we arrived at the farm.
My mom helped me put together a coop in the midday heat because my mom will do anything to help. A dear heart bestie drove down to my parents with her family and some good wine, because she knew what I needed.
When we move the flock from my parent’s to our next farm, it will be done differently. The birds are demanding a better relocation package and management agrees.
Happy trails, Katy