Have you ever stood in the middle of a verdant meadow or deep in a misty wood, standing oh-so-still to experience the wildlife? Have you seen dragonflies darting, wild rabbits bouncing merrily by, and birds coming close to peck at bugs and worms? Alice Walker has taken those experiences further, creating her own Garden of Eden (complete, unfortunately with earthly evils) for her beloved flock of chickens.
Subtitled "Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, the Gladyses, & Babe: A memoir," Walker has given us an intimate understanding of how a flock of chickens can provide inspiration, connectivity to family, and encounters of spiritual meaning, all from a fenced-in-run with a hen house.
If you have never owned chickens (and this reviewer has), you will be a bit bewildered at the anthropomorphizing of chickens. But something about standing still and watching a flock of chickens interact, eat, nest, lay eggs, and sun themselves connects us to nature and to whatever our concept is of a higher power is. Walker feels this intensely. This powerful book is taken both from her blog postings, and poetry and notes written to her "girls" while she was traveling all over the world. In her experience, she has taken the time to "Be still and know that I am God" by way of interaction with her small flock.
In the thirty-seven tender vignettes, Walker discusses Gandhi (who did on occasion eat meat, as does Walker), her past in rural Georgia, and her increased understanding of individuality, peace and interconnectivity with all on our planet Earth. She comes to a deeper appreciation of her own mother, and family ties, when she sees her chickens as an extended family, with personalities, conflicts and needs of their own, just as with human families. She mentions women of strength and knowledge, such as Jean Shinoda Bolen and Sue Hoya Sellars, who gave her insight about the smaller world of laying hens and the wider world of creating Mother—an expansive way of embracing motherhood in a motherless void. Each of these intimate portraits gives readers insights of their own and appreciation of memories and mothers.
Walker even has a moving tribute to Michael Jackson and a wonderfully stirring poem about him as well. Walker's mind and spirit roam free as she talks to her chickens, about Michael and others, sits in the hen yard with chickens on her lap, emoting and expressing herself with all of her flock. She delights in the simple pleasures her girls' experiences—dashing after a juicy bug, leaping for a hidden grape on the vine, or wallowing in joyously sinful pleasure in a mound of fine dust. She cries and mourns when one of her girls is lost—either in a hen house accident, due to a flying or creeping predator, or because, for all their wonder, chickens make foolish mistakes!
Walker discovers and shares each of these encounters, bringing her closer to compassion for/with herself and the natural world. She describes herself in her letters and blogs to her girls, as their mommy. Walker knows that in the microcosm she creates for her chickens, she is but an imitation of the real mother that is nature, and for some, Divinity. By being open to chance, possibility and yes, even heartache, we can reach back into our memories and forward in expanding our lives to include others. Alice Walker speaks to the child, mother (whether or not we have biological children), and woman in each of us, creating spirituality, meaning and home for ourselves and our loved ones, whether they be human or chicken.
Alice Walker is one of the most prolific writers of our time, known for her literary fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple, her many volumes of poetry, and her powerful nonfiction collections. Her advocacy for the dispossessed has spanned the globe. She has a home (and a small flock of chickens) in Mendocino, CA, north of San Francisco. Visit her website.
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