Paper: Chapel Hill Herald (NC)
Title: Chicken's a little reminder of heaven
Author: Lauren Knapp-Resnik Guest columnist
Date: November 7, 2006
I am sitting in our horse-stall-turned-chicken-coop, squatting on a
dusty 6-by-6 beam stretched across the dirt floor. When I reach out to
grab Henry, my Bantam rooster, he dodges me with a routine pirouette and
drags his miniature wings along the ground in flirtation, feigning
coyness in front of the other big white chickens.When I finally scoop him up
(he strolls off while everyone else scatters) I cradle him in my arms
like a baby, with his legs shooting straight up at the barn rafters. He
scoffs at first, but then I squeeze his tiny diaphragm, grit my teeth
in a warm reverie and squeal, "Henryyyyy you are so cuuuuuuute!"
Poor Henry struggles for a bit, then looks up at me in amazement as I
proceed to pull on his "feet" and gently tug at his talons. Not only is
this outlandish and illogical, but it runs counter to any sort of laws
He is all at once mystified, indignant and warmed.
True, I think looking down at him, my ancestors did eat your ancestors.
I always feel Henry's nervousness around humans (or anything bigger
than him) is evolution, defined.
At some level he must be very aware of the fact that he, along with
sliced vegetables in a soup pot, is the key to fixing my flu miseries. And
at least one of my 20 chickens must speculate that I eat their kind,
albeit outside their circle.
But as if setting aside such grave conflicts with shrugged wings, I am
still presented with bone white masterpieces, delicate lobes of
alabaster to nourish me daily.
Peering into a hay nest to find a pile of clean eggs is a bit like
falling hard in love -- when you experience it, it's kind of wondrous,
pure, exciting, new, wholesome -- and you just can't help but love the
Fetching eggs from beneath a white rump of feathers I sometimes think
about my great-grandfather Papaw and his son Russell who died at age 9.
Little Russell fell out of a tree and broke his arm, and he didn't make
it because of the bacteria, rudimentary medical knowledge and ensuing
tetanus. My grandmother Mimi told me what she remembered about Papaw
after his son died. She said Papaw would just go out in the chicken house
and cry his heart out.
Mimi looked at me and tears welled in her eyes. She said, "You could
hear him all the way down the road, the neighbors could hear him all
I think about Charles Logan Knapp -- Papaw -- sitting there crying by
himself out in the chicken coop, as I watch my chickens peck at their
metal feeder of cracked corn and scratch. I marvel at the mystery of time
-- would he ever guess that here was his great-granddaughter nearly 100
years later, hunkered down in the chicken coop, ruminating on his
Sitting around with chickens makes me feel closer to my ancestor I
never knew, and I wonder if the same peace I derive from watching these
creatures patter around is somehow hereditary.
If you go down south a few hundred miles to the flip side of the
family, my mother's, you'll find yourself in none other than La Grange,
Texas, the world renowned city of the original Chicken Ranch, a little town
even ZZ Top hums about.
My mother has long since removed herself from any connection with La
Grange or her relatives there (evidently not a highlight she preferred to
be associated with).
Yet I remember playing in a shambled chicken house on my other
grandmother's farm and digging out a wooden cane from a pile of hay, "The
Chicken Ranch" painted in vertical letters down its length.
Perhaps this does peg someone in my family in cahoots with the
notorious Chicken Ranch, perhaps not.
But on a more platonic note I envisage my grandmother or her friends
collecting "egg money" in perhaps some ceramic lidded pot in the kitchen,
"egg money" probably the precursor to "mad money."
I watch my chickens scratch the dirt and think about this connection to
Maybe it's more primordial, like a dog gazing into your eyes, the
squishy layers of cat fur and padding under your fingers, the distinct
squeak of a baby squirrel above, a balmy wind rippling leaves.
I think it's more nature's little tease, Henry's splayed wings --
trappings of a heaven we just might get to see.
Lauren Knapp-Resnik is a resident of Hillsborough.
Author: Lauren Knapp-Resnik Guest columnist
Copyright, 2006, The Durham Herald Company