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This post first appeared on Brenda Whiteside’s blog March 8 2021., as “Communes and Chickens.


As I walk around my suburban neighborhood these mornings, I hear the cluck of chickens.

Brrtuttututt, brrtuttuttut, they warble, the first syllable on a higher note than the second two.

It’s a sound that makes me happy, because I grew up with chickens. They lived in a large caged area in our back yard, a wired enclosure with a latched gate and a roosting house .Never have I seen again such golden yolks as those from our eggs, for our chickens were well nourished and had plenty of room to strut about.

Years later I lived in the bucolic town of Lincoln, Massachusetts, where chickens and all manner of livestock thrive in backyards and small farms. Here’s a photo of the free-range chickens at Codman Farm, the town’s community farm.

The commune members in my new novel, Joyous Lies, keep chickens. These fictional chickens, like our flock, had individual personalities and were named.

Yet the life of a chicken comes to an end, as do we all. I learned not to be sentimental about this when my father selected an aging hen for our dinner. He’d lay the chicken on his chopping block made from the cut-down trunk of a tree, and axe its head off.  I don’t know why the chicken lay there passively in this uncomfortable position. I guess Dad must have twisted its neck mercifully before decapitating it. Later, I “helped” my grandmother when she plucked and gutted the bird. Life with livestock and birds can be messy.  Looking back, it seems to me that we then had  more respect for the creature and for the work involved in feeding ourselves than when we scan rows of plastic-wrapped pieces of flesh in the supermarket. Our squeamish denial allows us to buy breasts in one packet, legs in another so we don’t have to recognize that these birds once had individual lives. Whether we view animals and birds, plants and trees as equal partners in the balance of life, or whether we see them solely in terms of how they can benefit us is one of the questions at the heart of Joyous Lies.

Thank you, Brenda, for this opportunity to tell readers about one of my inspirations for Joyous Lies!