I read The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker over the weekend, finishing it up early this morning– the chill of autumn in my toes. This book lifted my spirits and had some surprises that kept me moving through it.
I’ll admit, I read the first chapter without thinking much about who wrote the book. I knew it was going to be about chickens but honestly didn’t know what to expect– I don’t read the backs of books very much, and this book has been on my shelf for a while, though I can’t remember how or why I acquired it. All of this to say, I just dove right in– the writing is easy and relaxing to read– the lines, “I instantly named her Gertrude, and later would call her by her full name: Gertrude Stein. She looked nothing like Gertrude Stein, of course” –stopped me and I went back to the cover. Alice Walker? Gertrude Stein? Worlds colliding!
I read the first fifty pages in a morning, relishing in Walker’s philosophy interwoven with stories about her raising chickens. There’s a playfulness, a silliness even, to the writing in this book that helped me reconcile some of the ongoing loss and trauma 2020 has offered. The book is a series of letters she writes to her chickens, speaking to them as chickens, which is a wonderful perspective to read– there is the tone of ‘Mommy’ who continually circles back to her love of her chickens. It’s refreshing.
The last essay in the book concludes that while her chicken’s find her company welcome– enjoy her lap, her treats, her voice, her being– that they are most happy when they are set free to enjoy nature AKA The Mother, and as Walker concludes, “For Mommy is not the same as Mother, and certainly not the same as The Mother. The one whose lap is too big to fall out of, whose head is too extraordinarily to be fouled by chicken poop, whose mind is too flexible to worry about who gets eaten up and by what. This Mother, unlike Mommy, never worries; time is her toy. Being is her thought.”
This was a treat, a retreat — beyond chicken tales, Walker writes about her travels to India, her own life growing up, and other bits and pieces that you can easily enjoy– she does write a bit about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, which was delightful.