This April, I want to "give a shout-out to my Peeps"
Spring renewal signalled with a "Peep!"
By Dave Anderson
Spring renewal signaled with a peep
By late April, rural dispositions soften. Folks relax and smile with the smug assurance that we made it through another winter. The signs of spring are now too numerous to count.
“Pick-Up Chicks Here!” read the bright green banner at the local Blue Seal feed store last week. Who could resist? I smiled, smoothed back my hair and went inside…
The counter guy muttered he’d personally had better luck picking up chicks elsewhere. From a back aisle came the unmistakable shrill “peep” of 850 fuzzy baby chicks sorted by breeds into aerated cardboard cartons. My poultry order - twelve Buff Orppingtons and twelve Wyandote chickens – was waiting.
Face it: baby chicks are adorable. Nobody can resist the allure of their blinking black eyes, fuzzy yellow bodies and collective wing flapping and leg-stretching antics. As minivan-moms bought starter mash, water bottles and feed trays to begin new lives as fledgling farmers, their children clamored to see and hold their chicks for the first time.
Farm store business is growing – and vice-versa. More residents are getting closer to the land and presumably further from supermarket checkout counters. Record numbers of “first-timers” are expanding a robust “grow it yourself” trend. Backyard poultry and livestock seminars and spring poultry orders set new records this spring. Backyards-turned-barnyards are sporting chicken coops and pig pens as more people embrace raising their own eggs, meat birds, pigs and goats as lawns are being tilled for vegetable gardens.
I got my “peeps” home to meet their new family. Our cats were mercifully disinterested. The border collie watched intently with ears cocked forward, panting and drooling with obvious expectation and matriarchal concern as the two-day-old chicks scratched, preened, pecked and drank by dipping tiny beaks and tipping heads skyward. She immediately wanted to herd the new fuzzy flock.
That combination of innate both chicken and dog instinct triggered a few instincts of our own: we sat utterly transfixed on our living room floor, fussing over the temporary indoor cardboard chicken coop. I checked on them at least twice in the middle of their first night.
“Cute” is a survival adaptation particularly well-developed in domestic animals in need of tender nurturing by human surrogate parents. Puppies, kittens, pink piglets, wooly lambs and fuzzy chicks are notoriously “aaawwww” inspiring. We respond emotionally to animals, but we’re particularly vulnerable to baby animals.
It’s no coincidence that baby animals are therapeutic in elderly communities, retirement homes and hospice. We’re enthralled and entranced while watching, touching or cooing over babies of all stripes. We soften in their presence. New life embodies renewal of a universal continuum. To hold them is to touch the future.
One particularly crusty acquaintance visited our barn one spring to see the newborn lambs. Later, he sent me an uncharacteristic note of thanks saying how much it “did him good.” That surprised both of us.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson coined the term “Biophilia” to describe an innate human affinity for Nature. Wilson proposed the human tendency to focus on life and life-like processes as a biological need integral to individual and societal development. Whether or not you agree that an innate emotional need to associate with other living organisms is embedded in human genes, it’s hard to argue that cultural response rather than hard-wired human instincts underlie our universal fascination with life.
Generations of our New Hampshire ancestors and predecessors have lived, died and passed into history amid this familiar, shared landscape of mountains, lakes, forests, farms and villages. Each spring, the marriage between our State’s natural and cultural landscapes is renewed, born anew when the birthrate skyrockets in backyard barnyards, gardens, fields and forests.
We cultivate love in our families and our communities caring for our elderly, our children, our neighbors and our pets. Nurturing a collective “flock” is the most tangible expression of the ideal that we have a responsibility to care for those more vulnerable or less fortunate than ourselves. It feels right when we fulfill a promise for which we seem particularly well-made.
We’re drawn that ideal of human kindness like fuzzy chicks drawn to the warm incandescent glow of the artificial sun suspended above them. That warmth keeps their tiny bodies healthy and capable of reaching their full future potential.