I have become a farm girl by proxy. Last summer, my dad retired after 30 years in the Army. To my great surprise, they bought a little farm in central Virginia, a long 20 minutes from the nearest grocery store and out in the backwoods. It’s the kind of place where, once the sun goes down, it’s really, really dark—in a way people like me, who are used to street lamps and headlights all night, can’t understand.

Soon after moving in, my mother got this crazy idea (they run in the family) that she wanted chickens so she could have fresh eggs. Much obliging, as he always is, my dad got to work on plans for a coop.

Meanwhile, he lost weight and built muscle putting in a fence around the three-acre lot—by hand. If you know anything about central Virginia, you know that clay is part of life. Country Virginia mothers know that boots are an essential item for children that go out of doors, and that white carpets are the worst idea ever.

My dad rented an auger to dig the holes, and the blade got stuck because the ground was so hard and full of 10 and 15 pound boulders. So instead of giving up and hiring a professional, he got up early every Saturday morning for months, put on his newly acquired overalls, and tore up the ground with a post hole digger and a shovel.

He now looks like the Terminator when he crosses his arms in front of him, and I don’t bring home guys without a lengthy warning, for fear that they’ll pee their pants at one glance from under those graying bushy eyebrows.

About halfway through the completion of the fence, January hit and the ground froze. That was the sign for my dad to quit hacking at the unyielding, icy clay and get to work on his self-designed chicken house.

I was away at school most of the time, and got to see the completion of the house in stages. I even helped a little, ruining a pair of Pumas carrying plywood pieces through the deep red mud.

Once the house was finished, my mother brought home the chickens—several Polish hens and two roosters. The birds were promptly named, constantly petted, and immediately inducted into the appropriately named Rocky Hill Farm family.

Polish hens have a distinct look, with feathers sticking out of their heads like afros. Each of the chickens have fantastic coloration, like they must be works of art and not creatures that peck at each other’s poop and vomit in your hand.

Sadly, the prettiest hen with the biggest afro—named Nugget by my youngest sister—died a few weeks after moving into her new home. It might have been the cold that caused her demise. Central Virginia received record-setting amounts of the cruel, inhibiting white-crap-from-the-sky. She was buried on a Monday, the day after Valentine’s Day.

My family is hoping for better luck in the future farm living experiment. They have planted fruit trees, survived several power outages, and are learning how to stock up on food so that trips off the farm are only necessary a few times a week.

For me, their farm existence is like watching a parade from the side of the street. I can wave, maybe join in the festivities from time to time, walk with a clown or two, but I’m not a part of it enough to hop on a float and don a costume. I’ll keep my Pumas, and you can have your overalls.

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