This morning I dumped the chopped-up core from my breakfast apple into a yellow plastic bowl, added some leftover rice I found lurking at the back of the fridge, and then poured the extra steamed milk from the cappuccinos my husband made over it.
After I mixed it all together, I put on the puffy pink jacket my friend Terry in Massachusetts gave me on our last visit and went into the frigid garage. There I stuffed my feet into a pair of chilly rubber boots and pulled on a pair of equally cold gloves. Arranging two large feeding bowls, I combined the food I’d brought from the kitchen with scoops of chicken feed, added some blackfly larva from the bag labeled “BUGS,” garnished the bowls with a few snips of lettuce and arugula from the garden, and stepped outside.
My nine hens were, as always, eager to see me. I’m pretty sure their enthusiasm has more to do with the food I bring them than anything approaching affection, but I like to think they have some kind of avian regard for me. As always, I let them out of the coop into their fenced run, placed the bowls a few yards apart (my chickens remind me of people at a salad bar—they like to have choices), checked their water, scraped the accumulated droppings from inside the coop into a bucket, and raked the pine bedding into a nice, fluffy texture.
As I turned toward the garage door, my mood lifted. I felt not just ok, but hopeful, inspired even.
This morning was not sunny. It’s been raining in Oregon for—well, forever, it seems to an ex-Californian. It was a typically dreary day in late January. The sky over my chicken coop was a uniform gray with no break in the clouds. Why was I so happy?
I’m no psychiatrist, but I know light affects everyone. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a real thing. I question whether it’s a true “disorder”—I think it’s universal human condition. In California, the seasons aren’t so marked by a difference in light, but here in Oregon, on the winter solstice, the sun came up at 7:44 am and went down at 4:37 pm. That means it didn’t get all the way light until about 10:00 am, and dusk began at 3:00 pm. Looking south, I watched the sun make a low arch over the house across the street before it headed back down.
As Linda Pastan wrote in her poem “SAD:”
Just one hit of sun,
one almost lethal shot
of pure, yellow light…
and I’ll forget the whole broken world,
forget the impermanence of beauty.
I didn’t get a “hit of sun” this morning, but those few extra minutes of light, even from behind thick clouds, made a difference. Checking the sunrise/sunset times for today, I see that the sun came up at 7:33 am and will go down at 5:17 pm. That’s forty-one more minutes of light since December 21, 2020. Not that I’m counting.
The thing about SAD, at least for me, is that I don’t really notice it until it starts to recede. Then I realize that the darkness did affect my mood, dulling it just enough for me to observe the change when the light starts to return.
Light affects my hens too. During the Fall, they lay fewer and fewer eggs. Commercial egg producers address this by adding artificial light to their chicken coops, which explains why we can buy eggs year-round.
I prefer to let my hens have a rest, knowing they’ll start laying again as soon as the light returns. During the dark months, I feed them extra-choice tidbits, add apple cider vinegar to their water, and make sure they have dry bedding. I watch for signs of stress, which include poor appetite, aggression, and pulling each other’s feathers. Every once in a while, I let them out of their pen to explore the larger backyard.
On December 31, 2020, I wrote this haiku:
another morsel of light
in spite of everything
I hope the returning light inspires your writing.