A great book for chicken fans

It seems that nearly everywhere I go these days, people are talking chickens. Friends and neighbors are either discussing the city's rules for keeping chickens or they are preparing to get some backyard chickens of their own. Also, there is something about chickens that makes even smug, know-it-all animal owners all giggly and delighted when their new hen chases a shoelace or comes running at the sound of her name.

Alice Walker's latest book is perfect for backyard chicken lovers or potential backyard chicken lovers. "The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, The Gladyses, & Babe: A Memoir." Yes, that's the whole title. Walker, most famously known for her novel "The Color Purple," has created a quirky collection of stories and musings on life with her chickens and the memories the hens bring forth, as she recalls her Georgia childhood, and connects these memories with her current life.

The second half of the book includes poems and even notes she's written to the chickens while traveling. The book is a sort of love letter to the gaggle of hens that she says helped change her perspective both on chickens in general and on weightier issues of life, death and food.

Walker decided to raise chickens because, she writes, "I realized I was concerned about chickens, as a Nation, and that I missed them. (Some of you will want to read no further.) I also realized I ate so many eggs, I should get to know the chickens laying them." I smiled as I read this because honestly, when I saw the words "chickens as a Nation," I almost closed the book.

Walker, like so many backyard chicken owners I've met in Ashland, is funny and open about her love for her chickens. She writes that although she'd seen chickens growing up in Georgia, where it was often her job to chase them down for Sunday dinner or gather eggs, she'd never really "seen" a chicken before; she had never noticed all its grace and glory.

Now, years later, as she is living quietly in the California wine country, she teams with her neighbors to raise some hens. They take care of them as chicks and she gets the grown birds. Walker builds a coop, sits with the hens daily and refers to herself as "Mommy." From a lesser writer, the stories could easily turn into the babblings of the chicken-equivalent of a crazy cat lady, but Walker is a fantastic writer. In many instances she herself is surprised at how taken she is with these birds as she writes of marveling at their warmth, personality and vibrant colors. Each chicken gets its moment in the book as she writes of Babe, the first hen who trusted her, and all the above-named chickens who help provide her with insights on vegetarian diets, bullying, friendship and even race relations.

I kept waiting for the book to be silly, for me to roll my eyes and and think "Oh Alice, you wacky tree-hugging chicken lover," but her stories are thoughtful and her tone is perfect. She is sweetly sincere, truly amazed by her little flock and all they have to offer. Walker is also aware that she is slightly eccentric in her imaginings of the chickens' inner lives, and thus she is also self-deprecating. The chickens are at times silly, and Walker at times has silly thoughts about the chickens, but what she writes is thoughtful, poetic and engaging.

Overall, the book isn't just about chickens, but how her chickens changed her, helped give her a new perspective on her own life and humankind's place in the world. For readers it's both a primer on raising chickens (it's really not that hard) and appreciating these often unappreciated creatures.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.

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