Broody Hens and Stepping Back from the Fray

In-Fern-o herself.

A chicken incubates an egg for 21 days.  This is a fact I did not know until two of our Cochins went broody this spring.

I also didn’t understand the term “brooding” as an emotion until I saw these girls go wan and ornery with the wait on motherhood.

Last night, our hen Fern – In-Fern-O – went broody.  She climbed into the outhouse clean-out, where she prefers to lay her eggs (No worries, that outhouse has not been used in a century.) and would not come out until Philip lifted her into the coop for the night.  This morning, before the dawn rose, she came out to greet me, talking away like nothing happened.

Sometimes, I want to shut myself away and brood, too.  21 days. 6 months. A year or two. Sometimes, the world feels “too much with us” as Wordsworth said.

Sometimes, we need to shut ourselves away.  Never permanently. Never for so long that we forget the people we loved on the other side of the door. Never so long that the can learn to forget us. Never so long that we disengage entire.

But sometimes – say for 21 days when we are growing something, or for 5 hours when we have fathers to celebrate, or for a weekend when the sadness and anger and pain of racism writ in tiny type on Facebook posts wounds us too deep – we have to step away.  And that is okay.  That is good.


Yesterday, Philip and I spent the day at Celebrate Louisa, a street fair in the beautiful Main Street community just two counties over from the farm.  We took our veggies and some crafts, and we put up our tent and tables and relaxed. We chatted with our fellow farmers, and we met a man who used to carry cucumbers in his pockets when he went over the mountains – “Good as a bottle of water,” he said.

We sold zucchini and foraged black raspberries, and we watched the young kids beeline for the bounce house.  I saw a friend from high school and caught up on her life and the lives of other people we once shared in our days. People admire by father-in-law’s bandsaw boxes and the amazing ceramic dolls that my mother-in-law paints. A teenager wielded Dad’s walking stiff, briefly, like a sword.

In the midst of that space, my mother-in-law and I talked about Charleston, about the profound strength it takes to forgive the person who has killed people you love, about the hope that their forgiveness is a call to action, not an easy out, for white people to take action to overcome racism.

Later that afternoon, I thought about all the people who are saying that Facebook conversations don’t change anything; I thought about all the people I’ve heard say that people don’t change.  Then, I thought about myself – the things I believed about other human beings when I was in high school.  I thought about Dad, who has told me time and time again, that our conversations have changed him, have helped him grow.

We have so much more to do than just talk, but on a hot Saturday afternoon in rural Virginia, sometimes talk is a true beginning.


Yet, even the talking can make a person weary.  Especially when so much of that conversation comes layered with racism and self-protection and profound levels of privilege.  I’m a bit tired, to be honest. (And I realize completely that my fatigue is nothing in comparison to that of my black and brown brothers and sisters who live this conversation in their bodies every day.)

So I’m taking today to care for myself and the people I love nearby. I’m letting the well refill a bit and celebrating the fact that I have three amazing men in my life on this Father’s Day. I’m caring for the people right nearby.

But tomorrow, I’ll be back to hard conversations and challenging questions.  Tomorrow, I’ll be listening to people of color and looking for ways I can do more.  Tomorrow, I”ll actively join the fight.

Today, I’m taking Fern’s lead and loving on those gifted to me in body and spirit.   Ever the ally, ever the advocate, just one who needs a bit of rest today.

What might you need to take a step away from for a bit? Where might you need to recharge and find renewed strength? What do you do when you need to refill your well? 

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