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Seeing can set you free by Sim D'Hertefelt

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  • Have you ever had a sudden insight into our pitiful human condition? An insight that sets you free. Not *from* that condition —I guess that’s not entirely possible in this life— but free *within* it. Just seeing can do that to you. It happened to me the other day when I watched my chickens.
  • Last Saturday morning I drove with 3 girls to the chicken farmer in the country. My youngest daughter of 6. My eldest 12-year old —I’m almost 13, dad, I’m an adult now— and her friend. Out to buy 3 new chickens. 6 weeks ago we woke up to a "chicken rapture". We looked out the window in the morning to nothing but a heap of brown feathers in the run. All the people we talked about it in the next few weeks could be divided into 2 categories, depending on the nature they fear and the nature they choose to believe in.
  • There were those who blamed that callous orange nature called foxes. "Yeah, they live in the city nowadays. Practically domesticated, you know." And there were those who said that foxes leave a bloody mess and that this clean vanishing therefore had to be of human doing. That other disheartening predator. The chicken farmer’s expert opinion was "definitely foxes". 3 chickens at a time? "Sure, a mother who teaches her pups to hunt." And no, there would be no blood. "They don’t bite the skin, you see. They catch them by the neck and swing the body back and forth a few times."

    So the girls chose a brown, a grey and a white chicken. The brown one was instantly baptised "Lola" by my youngest. Just like the one that vanished, leaving only some of her feathers as a goodbye note. We drove home with a large carton box, 6 pairs of girls eyes gazing intently at each other through the holes, 6 voices softly murmuring, distraught or reassuring depending on the side of the carton.
  • The proces of integrating chickens in their new home, requires you to lock them in their 12-square-feet coop for a whole day and night. Otherwise they may not get familiar with their coop at all, wander outside all night, in the rain and whatnot, catch pneumonia and die. Don’t worry, they feel quite comfortable in small, confined spaces. They snuggle up to each other, 1 cubic foot of feathers, white, grey and brown.

    But then comes the morning after. This is the revelatory moment I wanted to share with you. The moment I get a sudden insight in myself and the entire human condition.
  • It’s a bright morning at the end of August when I open the coop door. Everything drips from the nightly thunderstorm. I remove the food and water from the coop and put it outside in the run. This instant the chickens are offered all the riches a chicken heart can desire: 30 square yards of freedom and dirt that just screams to be scratched, 6 weeks growth of fresh green weeds to nibble from, snails and worms and other heedless little treats, sun and warm dust for endless afternoon baths. It’s the promised land of milk and honey for these poor beings, born to lay eggs in a concrete chicken farm hangar. You expect cymbals or at least dramatic film music to underscore this huge, defining instant.
  • Where do the expectations flee, from the laden moments in which nothing happens? Nothing happens for 2 long hours. Then the smallest chicken, the insecure white one, is chased from the coop by the largest, the dominant grey one. She stands there for a few minutes, neck streched long in alarm. Then she goes back inside. And nothing continues to not happen for several hours.

    And all this time I ponder human nature and the way we greet the greater freedom and the greater riches of life when a door is opened without our doing: puberty, adolesence, midlife, retirement, death. And for that brief moment I feel utterly free in my poor midlife self.
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