Of the naming of chooks …

… there is no end. IsaBrowns

Names matter. My parents apparently disagreed about what my name should be, one wanting to call me Beverley, the other one (I’m not sure who wanted which) wanted to call me Robyn. They compromised and gave me both names, Beverley Robyn, then proceeded to call me by my middle name. Who knows what relationship dynamics could be drawn from that story! I’ve decided to go with Robyn, which feels so much more like me (though the order on my birth certificate is the official one I must answer to). Beverley was always what adults called me, usually when I was in trouble. Or banks and Centrelink, ditto. Bev was what my friends called me, but it’s such a non-word, that seems to collapse before it’s even begun (though a friend of mine who is also Bev manages to give the word a bit more oomph).

I’ll pass over the naming of my children for now, and go straight to my current naming requirements: chooks. We have two new Isa Browns, currently nameless. They’re numbers 5 and 6 in the Murrumbateman tribe, though numbers 1 and 2 have since passed on to fox-free ranges in the clouds. They were Lacewing Wyandottes, birds bred mostly for their looks: their feathers that loop beautifully like lace. Wyandottes snoozingCleopatra was black and gold, and just demanded a queenly name; Esmerelda was brown and blue, just as beautiful but less grand. Of course, day to day they became Cleo and Esmay and surprised us by laying eggs fairly regularly, Esmay’s white and delicate, Cleo’s brown and larger. Cleo died of delayed shock, thanks to the neighbourhood dog, and Esmay slipped into a sort of chook dementia, still able to eat and drink, but prone to walk into walls, or forget where the coop was. She seemed happy enough, in chook terms, and died quietly a few months later.

Australorps pas-de-deuxNumbers 3 and 4 are Australorps, big and greeny-black. We tried for dramatic names to go with their colour: Medea — well, it’s hard to be any more dramatic than her — and Pocahontas, inspired I think by the black hair of her namesake. They’re professional egg-layers and supposed to lay like the clappers, taking only Christmas day off, though ours lay when the fancy took them. Not often, to begin with. Not at all anymore. Perhaps they objected to the names. Chook FrumpThey’ve taken on the look of Edwardian widows, moving slowly and dressed in black silk with voluminous skirts, puffed sleeves, ruffs and pleats. Perhaps they think appellations akin to Lady Bracknell and Queen Victoria would be more suited to their station.

And so they’re not sure about numbers 5 and 6 disturbing their peace. The Isa Browns are caramel-coloured, young and thin with long legs and a tendency to stand with one leg lifted as if they’re doing the Tai-Chi move, white crane spreads its wings, or maybe playing fairies. They’re completely intimidated and tend to find a corner wherever the black dowagers are not. Perhaps names would give them confidence, but I don’t know what. I’ve thought of Tinkerbell, Titania or Ariel … but no, that last one would be unwise. And they need a name they can grow into; after all, Tai Chi moves are really a form of martial arts.

Here they are. All suggestions gratefully received. Leg up chook

The tower of cushions

When I was very young my parents owned and worked a chicken and cattle farm. It was only forty acres, not at all big by Australian standards, but for me, it was enormous.

I wandered around with Mum and Dad, helping them … or so I thought.

But one day, the family mythology tells, I went into our lounge room and took the large, square seat cushions from the chairs and stacked them, one by one, onto one chair, climbed to the top and sat there. I’m sure I remember myself sitting there, near the window with the curtains closed, high on my mustard-coloured cushions. Or perhaps I’ve filled in the memory from what tower cushionsmy family told me, because they have retold the story many times: that while I was sitting there, they were hunting for me, calling out, frantic, looking in the chicken sheds, the woodshed, the workshop, the storerooms. And, with dread, scanning the dam for signs of me.

I must have heard them shouting, but there I stayed, high on my tower of cushions and said nothing. At last they found me with a mixture of anger, relief, frustration … I can only imagine. It would have taken some time, if at all, before they would think of it as ‘cute’, I reckon. But they laughed years later whenever they told the story.

What was I doing up there? Thinking, singing, talking to myself, making up stories, being a princess? Perhaps. Being by myself? For sure. I was making a place for myself in that family, in that expanse of land I explored, excited and nervous.

I was brave enough to taunt the cows with their twisted horns, their heavy hoofs and their ground-shaking bellows, to call them names, pretending I wasn’t scared, but only from the safety of the trailer when we took out hay for them. I would call Blackie, our black Labrador, then, suddenly nervous, put my hands out to fend him off, his big head about level with mine, his tongue thick and wet, his tail like a whip. I mixed mash for the thousands of chickens strutting around in their sheds, but I was always just a bit daunted by the mass of white and the non-stop, high-pitched cackle. I loved the adventure of it all, but I was always smaller, often overwhelmed as well.

So in one way it makes sense that I carved out my own space — not just a corner of the bedroom or a chair like everyone else had, but something my own (that made me taller, as well). I can’t remember what I was doing on that tower of cushions, but now, I love the picture of my small self propped up there because it feels a lot like what I do when I write.

Many writers say that they write to find out what they think, to make sense of the world. I agree with that, but it can sound a bit too much like resolution. When I write, I find a space like the young me. Even though I need to be alone, I don’t leave behind the world outside, just as I didn’t leave behind the farm, but gather it in, take a deep breath, acknowledge its terrors and its beauty, and find out where I belong in relation to it. Writing helps me do that. I don’t make sense of it all, but I work toward a way of living more fully in it. It’s where I play, imagine who or what might be, where I face the questions, explore a way toward answers, discover more of what I think and believe; it’s not always comfortable like my cushions, it’s never finished or resolved, but it’s undoubtedly mine. Oh, and now I never imagine I’m a princess!