I can never understand other people’s happiness unless it’s derived exactly the way mine is. If it makes you happy to fish, to talk to people smarter than you, and to watch episodes of The Good Life back to back, I get it. But if opera, kayaking, and adventure travel float your boat, your psyche is a mystery to me.
While I have an abstract understanding that different people enjoy different pursuits, it still boggles my mind that something that bores me witless can fascinate someone else. Someone of the same species, someone whose DNA is virtually indistinguishable from mine. How can it be that a person who is the product of the self-same set of evolutionary forces actually enjoys nonrepresentational art?
And if I can’t begin to get inside the mind of a fellow human, what hope is there that I can understand a chicken? Oh, sure, there’s less to understand, but there’s much less common ground from which to understand it.
This week, our chicks and poults graduated to day camp.
Day camp isn’t a step they tell you about in the chicken-raising books but it’s the one you inevitably take when the brooder starts looking a wee bit small for the chicks, but the chicks still look a wee bit small for the coop. A little fencing to cordon off a sunny spot is all you need to give your birds a taste of the great outdoors.
I watched as they felt the wind ruffle their feathers for the very first time. They got their first try at flying, their first feel of earth, their first taste of bug. Being outside opens up new vistas for our chickens and turkeys. It’s their first chance to engage in the full range of bird behavior. They run, they peck, they roost, they scratch.
I think they’re happier, but that may be because I know I would be happier.
At least in part. I do know that our grown-up chickens absolutely, positively prefer to be out of the run than inside it. They tell us so, loudly, every morning. But I don’t know whether a chicken kept in a box all its life would be unhappy. If the box had food and water, other chickens, and ample space, the chicken might live out its days in perfect contentment. It would never know about sunshine or inchworms or The Good Life. It would have clean litter, congenial company, and maybe a Rothko print. It might very well be happy.
Remember those Fancy Feast commercials with Morris the Cat? The one where the cat food went on a little crystal pedestal, and the announcer went on about all the ingredients that might sound appetizing to humans? I always thought they were silly because everyone knows a cat would rather eat mutilated chipmunk guts out of a hole in the ground.
Still, I’ve known indoor cats whose lives seem complete. I’ve known overindulged, undisciplined dogs to look as happy as those who lives are rigorously regimented. Pigs can thrive in sties, and pigs can thrive in forests. My chickens run around in the bushes, but I can’t conclude that there aren’t other ways to keep chickens happy. What I know for sure is that I’d be miserable if I were cooped up in the house, so I can’t leave my chickens housed up in the coop.
I draw the line at taking them fishing.