I killed two chickens this week.
We wanted to round out our urban flock so I went down to the store and picked up 3 new chicks. April, Dumpling and Sparky.
Saturday I came home from the AMAZING Colorado Teen Literature Conference (more on that really is still coming) and the first thing that greeted me was my two crying children.
“She’s hurt, Mom. She’s dying.” They sobbed, holding out my tiny grey fluff ball, Sparky.
Sure enough, Sparky was wobbly, weak, barely able to lift her head. She was sick, she was dying and I’m not chick expert, but she didn’t look happy.
I hugged my girls, thanked them for taking care of Sparky for me until I got home and for trying to make her comfortable and then I took Sparky outside and helped her find peace.
My husband had told the girls it was up to me whether we replaced Sparky or not. The girls begged, and I figured, why not? We wanted a couple more chicks, we ought to replace that one.
The store doesn’t like selling just one, after all chickens are flock animals. They need companionship. So… I bought two more.
I brought them home, we named them Cleopatra and Isis because of their Egyptian heritage. They were tiny little things, about half the size of April and Dumpling.
Their wing feathers hadn’t even started coming in yet.
The first day, they were fine. We were all making fun of Cleopatra for being a tiny little bully. She was loud and she would head-butt the bigger chicks, pushing them around the crate. She was awfully fierce for such a bitty thing.
The next morning I checked on them just before the girlgoyels went off to school.
Cleopatra was dead. Beak down in the wood chips, toes curled, dead.
I picked her up, held her, petted her in the dumb hope that she would open an eye. Nothing. She was gone.
I put her out with Sparky, wondering what had killed them, fearing it was some disease that spread via chicken poop. After all the two that had died were different breeds and had come from different batches.
Then, yesterday, Isis started acting sick. Weak in the legs, wobbly, unable to eat or drink. Her breathing was labored, she was lethargic, but clearly uncomfortable. She kept trying to stand only to fall.
I held her, cupped in my hand and she calmed, nestling in. I was able to feed her some water from a dropper. Yes, I felt a little ridiculous dropper feeding this baby chick, but… I wanted to figure out what was going on with my flock.
She did well while I held her. But when I put her back in the crate, she was a mess again.
Then it dawned on me – I was warm.
We hadn’t gotten out the heat lamp for the chicklets this time around. We keep our house at a robust 60 – 65 degrees in the winter. But, even I walk around with socks and a long sleeve shirt or sweater. These tiny little fluff balls were too small and still not fluffed enough to regulate their own temperature. Cleopatra wasn’t a bully, she was cold and trying to nestle.
I got the heat lamp and separated Isis, putting her under it.
Within a few minutes she was standing up on wobbly legs. She tottered over to the water bowl, stepped right in and drank. She ate a little food and then she crashed out again. Last night we put her back in with April and Dumpling, keeping the heat lamp over all of them.
This morning, Isis was fine. She was back on her feet, looking healthy, eating, drinking and cheeping.
I froze two chickens to death this week. Not on purpose, but through my ignorance and my faulty assumptions that ambient warmth was enough.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I realized today that I’ve been feeling a little like Cleopatra lately. Not a bully, just cold – just needing to nestle and get a little direct warmth.
Because of my job I spend a fair amount of time on social media, where there is constant ambient warmth – but very little directed heat. (Trolls don’t count.)
I also spend a lot of my time in that space head-butting people, trying to get them to engage, trying to get them to respond, to react, to care…
I teach a master’s class on social media engagement, so I know that that is what most everyone is doing on social media – trying to forge connections and not only make others feel something, but also to be touched by something ourselves.
We too are flock animals, we too crave companionship.
In the ambient noise of the interwebs, I think, we all too often forget to reach out, reach back, nestle up and direct our warmth. We forget to nurture each other.
When I look at social media I see a lot of isolated chickens, shivering and cheeping and head-butting for attention. I don’t see a whole lot of curling up together to share warmth or nurture creativity.
See, April and Dumpling, they were the two biggest chicks, they had their feathers and enough fluff to keep warm. So when those little chicklets squeaked and poked them, they got annoyed. They didn’t understand what the babies were asking for. They didn’t spread a wing and take a minute to lie down and warm the chicklets up. They just carried on with their eating and drinking and pooping routine, never engaging the baby chicks.
Now… If I threw those two out in the coop with the hens… Holy mayhem. Those big hens would peck them to pieces. They’re not big enough to defend themselves – nor are they big enough to survive these still cold nights outside.
That’s sort of like the hierarchy of the interwebs. There’s all of us little baby chicks, just getting started. Looking for warmth and friendship and connection – by shivering in a corner cheeping the loudest and head-butting anyone who comes close enough.
Mostly we reach the indifferent tweens, those slightly bigger chicks, willing to cheep back occasionally and put up with a little head-butting, but still so new themselves that they don’t know how to take us under their wing so we can soar together. (Not that chickens soar…)
Sometimes we get really brave and we reach out to the hens in the hen house only to get pecked back into our place…
But here’s the thing – we’re more evolved than chickens… right?
So – today’s challenge: Reach out – reach up, over AND down and do your best to make a genuine connection with someone else in each “class” of your social media sphere.
AND today – make a point of directing genuine attention at the people you interact with – whether it’s on twitter or facebook, email or in person.
Make that phone call you’ve been meaning to make to that old friend you can’t stop thinking about… Sit down and write a letter, by hand, and send it via the United States Postal Service… Craft an email to someone who’s been on your mind. Forward that link, video or image that you saw and know is just right for someone.
However you do it, just… direct a little warmth.
Let someone out there know that you care, that you’re thinking about them, that you see them and are touched by them.
Spring is here, but the nights are still cold. And I can’t speak for you, but I know I could sure use some extra heat.