On Being Born

NashPart I: Chicks chirp at me from the living room, though at the moment they are mostly sleeping in heaps, settling into a morning nap after filling up their tummies. They hatched out on December 17th, which is kinda like being born, only different. They never met their mamas, but cluster instinctively toward the white thermometer hanging in their brood box. Perhaps it is because the underside of many hens is lighter than the rest of their bodies, but since that’s not always true, perhaps its just because the white stands out as different from the brood box, and they are instinctively looking for something that is missing. They do this every year. Search for a mama they have never met. It reminds me that we engage in a very unnatural means of acquiring hens for our flock. I try to be a substitute mama to them, but mostly they are terrified of me.chicks

Every December we order baby chicks so that they will be laying by the time our CSA begins at the end of May or early June. A call comes from the Post Office telling me they have arrived. I try to get the night postal worker to call me as soon as they arrive–about 4:30 am, but I’m generally called closer to 6:30. The man on the end of the line tells me he is sure I didn’t really want to be called at 4:30. In so nice a voice that he doesn’t remember from year to year, I tell him I am sure that I did want to be called that early–that chicks arrive stressed and cold and hungry. He tells me they are chirping happily.

And 29 of 30 made the transition well. Lifting them one by one I welcome them to Fern Creek, dip their beaks in sugar water, and set them in their warm brooding box.  One appeared to be dead, or nearly so. Her cool body and open-beak jerky breathing told me she was dying. I stroked her under the warm light and tried to convince her life was worth a chance. Eventually I wrapped her in a paper towel and put her in the pocket of my fleece while I finished getting the rest of the chicks settled. I’d take her out periodically, and stroke her and talk to her, and she seemed neither nearer to death nor to life. I’d dip her beak in the water too, hoping some of it would get swallowed.

Mark said he’d take her and put her out of her misery if I wanted him too. He has a hard time watching animals suffer. I have a hard time giving up on life. In about 30 minutes she chirped, a weak chirp, but that was new, and it encouraged me to not give up hope. Eden woke up, so I dunked the beak of the half-living/half-dead bird once again and then laid her in a corner of the brood box.

edenEden has been staying with us for a few days while her Mama gave birth to her baby brother. Her eyes grew to size of silver dollars as she stood by the brood box and watched the chicks eat and drink and stumble over each other. I lied and told her the one in the corner was sleeping. It’s hard to know how to talk about death to a not-quite-two-year-old. But I noticed the little bird had finally opened her eyes. And that encouraged me to not give up hope. I picked her up, and thought her body felt warmer, and Eden stroked her with me. I told Eden it would be good if we could wake this sleepy chick up.

We washed our hands and went about getting ready to go into Portland, where we were baking with her Aunt Rae and cousin Juniper and baby Wes. I left the chick being pretty sure it would be dead by the time I returned, but less sure than I was an hour earlier.

Part II: On December 17th, the day the chicks hatched, Nash Alfonse McMinn Fileta was born. This is Eden’s new baby brother, our grandson. His mother is Sarah–I often link to her vegan cooking webpage, The Sweet Life. Eden and Nash’s father, Jason, wrote an explanation of his son’s name on facebook. I copy it here (with one small correction as to his Oregon heritage):

Nash takes his first name from my Great Grandfather Nashid. Nashid was a pastor back in Egypt, and was known for his kindness and love.

Nash takes his middle name from my Grandfather Alfonse. Gedo Alfonse immigrated here with my parents in 1980. He spent some time in Australia before moving back in when I was born and living with us until he died. He was the most gentle loving man I ever met. To this day he is revered by many as having a special kindness, gentleness and love that was remarkable.

Nash takes his first last name from Sarah–McMinn. Nash is a blend of our two families, our two stories, and I’m so grateful he carries this name from his loving, caring, and extraordinary mama and grandparents. He is now a 6th generation Oregonian on top of being a 2nd generation immigrant from Egypt–how cool is that!

Nash comes into the world with a rich heritage–carrying on life from Egyptian and melting pot-American fore-parents that stretch way back to the beginning. A big difference between Nash and the chicks who share his birth date is that he, like all humans, can make the world a better, or worse place for having lived. I love that he is being named for people known for their kindness, love, gentleness and care.  He has parents that will lean him in that direction–starting by giving him a powerful name.

Life is all kinds of precious. Yes, I meant it that way though life of all kinds is also precious. As a farmer I get to see a full cycle of life and death every season–in bees, broccoli, tomatoes, chickens, the cows next door. And in a baby chick that seemed to be dead, but six hours later was so alive that I couldn’t pick out which one it was that nearly died.

As a mother of three and grandmother of six I can now touch five generations–six if I count a great-grandfather who is holding me in a photo yellowed and cracked with time. The longevity of human life, and our capacity to manipulate Earth’s bounty is what allows us to make it a better or worse place.

We have a cloud of witnesses that have lived before us, relatives directly or indirectly, who encourage us toward peace and justice and kindness. During Advent Christians celebrate another birth–that of Jesus–God who came to us as a human to live among us, to show us what God’s love, compassion and kindness look like up close, in the flesh, as it were. That God who sustains all life–making it so chicks and humans alike stretch toward food, toward others, toward all life holds–would draw near, well, it takes my breath away.

In turn, may my life be characterized by love, compassion, and kindness.



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