Today’s story and illustration come from Chapter One of “How To Find A Most Wondrous Place.”
Sometimes the most wonderful things happen by chance. Selecting baby chicks can be that way. Finding a forever friendship can be that way too. At least, that is how it was with Gracie and me.
My life with Gracie began when I was unemployed. Suddenly there was enough time to raise baby chicks. They would keep me busy and looking towards the future. It is difficult to feel sorry for yourself when you are holding a little ball of fluff that looks up into your eyes so innocently and then says, “Peep!”
That spring day, I made two trips to The Feed And Seed Store. On the first trip, I hand-selected the baby chicks to take home with me. Few things are any cuter, and so I went back for more. Those were just scooped up randomly by the sales clerk. Without the second trip back, there would be no Gracie and Bessie in my life. Without that second trip, you would not be reading this.
Including Gracie and Bessie, there were fourteen chicks to raise in my sunroom. Eight were for friends. Six were for me. Those were some of the busiest and noisiest but altogether happiest days of my life.
There were several different kinds of baby chicks in my brooder box. Somehow each kind knew, “You’re like me!” But even among the other Buff Orpington chicks, there was always a special bond between Gracie and Bessie. With best friends, you simply know.
Gracie looked a little different. With the others, the feathers above their beaks were even. Gracie’s weren’t, and so her face seemed slightly lopsided.
The first week, a small lump appeared on Gracie’s side near her thigh. As the weeks went by, it grew with her. It kept her from moving quite like the others. Even so, she did her best to act like them. She didn’t want to get picked on by the more active and assertive chicks.
She stayed close to Bessie whenever she could. Bessie would go off to play with the others, but she always came back to Gracie. They slept beside each other, perhaps more by Gracie’s choice, but Bessie didn’t mind. It’s just like that with friends.
Most mornings after the spring showers, I would collect earthworms for everyone from under the bricks and logs outside. While the others were enjoying these treats, Gracie stayed back from the excitement. When it was over, she would go to Bessie. Sometimes she was lucky and found a small earthworm the others had overlooked.
Once I picked her up out of the brooder box and tried hand-feeding an earthworm to her. She was missing out on so much, but she wouldn’t eat. Being with Bessie was more important than even a tasty snack.
Gracie was slow to develop, and I wasn’t sure she would ever lay any eggs. Bessie started laying almost two months before her. Gracie worried about this.
During the long waiting period, I would tell Gracie every day, “It’s okay. You don’t have to lay eggs for me to love you. Even though that is what hens usually do, if you can’t, I will still love you. I will never get rid of you. It’s a promise. You will always be my best girl ever, just like Bessie.”
Over time, Gracie began talking to me too. First only a few words, then more as her trust grew. Eventually, we would have long heart-to-heart conversations, but whether in English or Chicken, I really can’t say. Languages blend together in the heart. That is where real and true listening begins even when everyone is perfectly quiet.
One of the first things Gracie told me about was her time at The Feed And Seed Store. It had been a scary place for her.
“I stayed close to Bessie in the big box with the heating lamp. There would be a shadow blocking the light. Then a hand would scoop some of us up. I didn’t know what happened to those taken away. But when it happened to me I hoped it would be for the better. More than that, I hoped it would be with Bessie.”
“So do you think it was all by chance that the two of you ended up here?” I asked. “You weren’t in the first group that I brought home. It was only because those others were so cute that I went back and got you and Bessie. Even then, it was the sales clerk who picked you out and not me.”
“Maybe some of it was chance,” she said. “But you didn’t tell the sales clerk to put me back. Even when you noticed my face was not perfect like Bessie’s, you didn’t tell the sales clerk to put me back. I trust a good heart more than chance. Your eyes told me we mattered and you would be taking us to A Most Wondrous Place.”
“Well, this little garden here in the city is nice, but I’m not sure it’s all that wonderful. It does need some work.”
“It may not be wonderful to you, but it is most wondrous to us. That is what I called it because that is what it is. Not every wonderful place is wondrous. But every A Most Wondrous Place is wonderful.”
This seemed like a riddle and a very fun riddle too. She smiled at how her words gave my face a curiously delighted expression.
“What does A Most Wondrous Place mean, Gracie? To a chicken.”
“It is not something that can be described. It is not something you can point to and say, ‘Oh, look at that! It is A Most Wondrous Place!’ But you will know when you are there. You will feel it with your heart. Sometimes you will know even before you are there. That is how it was for me the day you brought us home with you. This is A Most Wondrous Place.”
My first awareness of chicken wisdom began at that moment. Over the seasons of that first year together, I would learn more about how wise chickens truly are. I would also learn what A Most Wondrous Place means to chickens, and that is why I am writing all of this for you.
But I am getting ahead of myself. First I must tell you about how timid and shy little Gracie became the unlikely leader of my backyard flock. I may ramble a bit, but chickens do that too.
Daffodils in March are for new beginnings. The daffodils in our garden say to us, “I will never forget when our friendship began.”
Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! If you have read our first book, “Seasons Of Friendship,” some of this may seem familiar, but there is now a beginning, middle, and end. These make one longer and more focused story rather than a collection of stories. The book begins in March, and so we hope to publish March 1, 2021.