As I washed dishes yesterday, a little group of red laying hens wandered by the window where I stood watching. They were eagerly hunting for goodies in the plants, which is what they do almost all day, except this was different. Those chickens moved with a speed and energy that looked like pure delight because it was their first day outside after I kept them inside a new coop for a week and a half while they got used to their new home.

Chickens are very status-conscious, and if one finds a delicious treat, she usually runs around with it held high in her beak, but this little group was apparently so overcome with excitement that their pecking order was not the first thing on their minds. Instead, they almost bounced with joy at each new discovery and ate it right away without a show. It’s November, so I would have thought that pickings would be fairly slim, but they proved me wrong. There were evidently a great many delightful things hidden in the weeds by my house.

Today, as I look out the window, I occasionally see little groups of chickens scattered across our large yard and our surrounding field. I have been surprised at my reaction when I see them. I was flooded with deep and sudden relief, as if something that had been hurting suddenly felt better.

I can’t fully explain why my reaction was so strong. Part of it may have been seeing the chickens’ reaction to being outside again. Part of it was something else, though. Those chickens scratching around in the grass seem like one small part of the world that is going along cheerfully the way it should be. I can’t help but think that this was a sight seen by my grandparents and their grandparents before them. Now it’s a sight my children and I see, too, and when we do, we are connected to a long tradition that ties us to family as well as to the land.

Other people become part of that connection, too. They become part of it when they buy our chicken, when they join a CSA, when they plant kitchen herbs in a window pot, or teach a kid to cook from scratch. In some ways, I think people hunger for that connection almost more than they hunger for the fabulous food that we all raise around here.

That hunger for connection is one we can fill. We can go about it in big ways, or small ways, but most of us can do something. And in the moments when we do, we give ourselves and our communities the gift of just a little bit more peace.

This article appears in the current version of the Compost, Just Food Co-op’s newsletter

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