"It's freezing in here," I sat down on the couch beside Dana. "Winter is making up for forgetting to snow on Christmas. How cold is it outside?"
Dana whipped out his phone. "Let's see, shall we?"
I peered over his shoulder as he flipped to his favored weather app.
"Five degrees outside," He read aloud. "But it feels like negative 23."
I flopped onto my back and moaned. "I hate winter."
So what do the Orchards do in the winter?
School. Lots of school.
And, you know, there are still chickens to be fed and watered. Every morning Kate Orchard bundles up and troops outside to feed and water the chickens in each of the three coops, and every evening she bundles up and does it again.
Every Monday morning Rosie, Pippin, and myself drive out to the farm to have music lessons with Teacher. Kate and Rosie take turns at the piano, and then Rachie, Sarah, and I join them and we all sing. We sing hymns in three parts, and duets, and trios, and all sorts. It's great fun.
The other day while Rosie was at piano, Kate wondered if I would help her transfer a chicken.
"I walked into the coop earlier and found it lying there with a big bloody spot on it's back," She explained. "I don't know if it will live, but I need to move it to the other coop."
I grabbed my jacket. "Sure, I'll help."
"She can borrow my winter boots!" Rachie called from the kitchen.
I was glad for this, because all I'd brought were Pippin's boots, which were primarily made for cloth and did more for looks than warmth. They were better than my flats, but still.
Kate and I pulled on our coats in the garage, and I shoved my feet into heavy snow boots. The laces were far too long, and I did my best not to step on them as I followed Kate out into the cold.
Thankfully, this was not one of those 'feels like 23 below' days, but it was still pretty chilly. I shoved the laces of my shoes haphazardly into the tops of my boots and tromped over the well worn path towards the barn. Kate and I's breath puffed into the air.
Now, the Orchard Family doors are very interesting things. Quite unique. Their front door, which has a latch type handle instead of a knob, takes mammoth amounts of strength to open. The door leading from the house into the garage requires one to shove against it with one's shoulder before it will click shut, and the door leading from the garage to the outside has to be yanked shut forcefully. The barn door, which is more relevant to our current tale, has to be turned the wrong direction to open it. I had all these doors memorized before, and was quite pleased with myself when I remembered to twist the knob the wrong way. There were many times before that I'd been duped. It'd become a mission of mine to commit to habit the correct reactions to each of these doors to avoid embarrassing -- and sometimes painful -- mishaps. So, score for me, these habits stuck with me through the winter.
Inside, the barn smelled like straw. First we carried an old dog crate out the barn, around to the back, and into the coop there, where we placed it in the corner. The air in the coop was warm; heavy with the scent of, well, chickens. They clucked at us, and made halfhearted attempts to sneak out while the door was open, but I guessed it was simply too cold for them to really want to escape. A bump in the side with the toe of my boot sent them clucking away in a flap of indignant wings.
Then we returned to the barn. Kate led the way to a box right outside the corner coop, inside which resided the injured chicken in question. She lay there, clearly alive, but rather immobile, and Kate gently lifted her out. I could see the patch of raw skin where the feathers had been torn away, and wondered what could have caused that. Only a few days ago Rachie had told us that one of the roosters, Klink, had been decapitated by a coon. There were also incidents where chickens were simply trampled to death by their coop mates. Unintentionally, of course. Chickens are not the brightest creatures God ever created.
Once again I booted the potential escapees back into the coop as we opened the door. I watched Kate carefully place the injured creature into the kennel. Such a kind hearted girl, Kate is. Considering how much work and hassle chickens cause, and the fact that there will be absolutely no gratitude from the animal for her caretaking, she still did what she could to help it, concerned for its well being. It seemed to me a suddenly lovely thing. There in the middle of a smelly chicken coop, with a chicken who had probably gotten hurt because of something dumb it did to itself, I saw simple and dutiful kindness. Matter of fact and quickly past.
We went back inside after that, smiling and chatting about what the day held, and sang hymns with our sisters and cousins about gifts and journeys.