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  • Back when I lived on the island year round I raised animals. Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, and, for a while, Ginger, a bad-tempered pony.

    There goes the mayor of Gotts Island, Old Morris used to say when I walked through the bait shed.

    That’s right, agreed Millard, The mini-farmer from down southward.

    They watched me lower 100-pound sacks of feed with the block and tackle mounted at the end of the wharf to my open 16-foot skiff. Hauling grain and feed out to the island.

    Seems like a hell of a lot of work for eggs Benjy, said Young George. You know, they got ‘em down to the store for a dollar a dozen.

    Ain’t nothing like a fresh egg, said Millard.

    Millard grew up out on Black Island when the granite quarry was still a going thing. His mother ran the inn. Eyes closed, hat back, perched on a lobster trap out of the wind. Millard wandered easy down memory lane.

    You know, he went on, when my mother cracked an egg they sat right up in the pan. Yolk just bright orange. Nothing like them eggs they got today. Crack ‘em and they run all over the bottom of the pan.

    Eggs is eggs, said Young George.

    I started off with just a few hens. On a remote island with scrabbly, sour, gravel and sand soil and dreams of garden glory having manure delivered, as it were, fresh daily seemed a big plus. That and the fresh egg thing.

    Of course when I started out I didn’t consider thoroughly that you either haul the shit or haul the feed. By the time that realization dawned on me it was much too late to turn back.

    Mail order catalogues for chickens led to different breeds. Rhode Island Reds. Barred Rocks. Even a cocky little bantam rooster. After that is was an easy step to ducks and geese and turkeys.

    The birds led to goats and then sheep and pigs.

    I built pens, coops, shelters and fences. Scrounged the shores for scrap lumber, cut spruce poles and brush in the woods.

    I protected them from dogs and owls and mink. I rounded them up when they strayed and cut hay for them when it got cold. Mixed their feed with hot water on frosty mornings. Planted sugar beets and carrots. Hauled scraps from restaurants and learned to sling the 100-pound sacks up on a shoulder just like the guys at the feed n’ seed.

    By then it wasn’t just eggs. Actually it doesn’t matter if you only raise a critter for eggs and milk or if you raise them for meat. There comes the time.


    I sat for a moment here, in the writing, and thought back to the first time.


    The first time, I went out with different intent to the chickens. They knew. I watched them watch me for a time, leaned against the rough bark of the fence rails. A new sort of hush in the small meadow now. A waiting.

    I let one come close and then reached and snatched her up by the legs. The rest fled squawking, indignant and frazzled. Heads bobbling as I carried the one away. Her wings outstretched, beak opening and closing, head lifting to see what and where.

    How’d you do it, asked Bal, when he came out the next weekend. Bal was in High School then and his grandfather’s camp was a righteous shag shack.

    An axe, I told him. Nodded at the chopping block.

    And you ate it? Cherie, his perky girlfriend, shuddered.

    Roast chicken, I said.

    I didn’t say the first mouthful went down hard, bringing back all the sight and smell and sound of turning a chicken into a meal.

    Cool, said Bal. Next week, I’m going to do it.

    Cherie shuddered again.

    I didn’t say how when I raised the axe the hen looked me in the eye, and I looked back.

    I didn't tell them what I said. It wasn't sorry. Sorry is weak and wicked. Sorry is too late and never enough.

    Thank you, I told her with her head bowed over the chopping block.

    Thank you, I said again soft and gentle. And thank you once more as I brought the axe down, hard and fast.
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