Posted by: Abe's Blog | March 10, 2010

Chicken Frost

Author’s Note: This is the second in a series of short stories inspired by my stint as a fowl wrangler on a free-range chicken ranch in Eastern Oregon. Curious readers may find the first installment by clicking here. CLICK.

I am a fan of all seasons, but wintering on the chicken ranch ain’t no picnic at the beach. ‘Course, a picnic at the beach can be a let-down, too…what with the high winds blowing all the napkins away and skittering the sand pebbles along through your eyeballs until you can’t even see the beauty no more. Hank always says, “W-w-w-winter…I d-d-d-d-don’t…” I really can’t remember what he says after that; I tend to tune him out when the stuttering gets too bad. But it is with clarity of crystal clear that I recall my first winter on the free-range chicken ranch.

 I was young then, strong and of manly physique. My biceps bulged and bucked like fighting stallions and my back was shaped like a “V”. I had a mustache then, luxurious and full, and I grew it so that it overhung my lips and drooped in bull-dog fashion past my chin. I kept the top of my hair short and spiky and grew the back long. At the time I was the bass player for a speed-metal band called The Krunk of Kroll. I rocked pretty hard. We were touring then to promote our newest LP, Fist of Mighty Doom. In Libby, Montana, we stopped for a bite to eat at Dairy Queen. When I went in to the bathroom to powder my nose, the band ditched me. I was sitting on the toilet reading the jokes on the wall and heard the unmistakable growl of our broken-mufflered Ford Econoline, and I got a real sinking feeling. I was so consternated that I didn’t even stop to pull up my spandex leggings, but ran bowl-legged and hobbling into the parking lot to see the old van speeding away to the west, my bass and suitcase flung out of the slamming doors.

Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I had always proclaimed that the bass-player is the heart-beat of the band. Rock ain’t rock without that thumping bass beat. Being of a depressed mind, I figured now would be a good time to write a rock ballad. Right there in that parking lot, I grabbed my bass and sat down on my cracked suitcase and started strumming. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever tried picking at a bass that isn’t  plugged in…it just don’t sound right. I tried leaning in real close to hear the strings, but it just depressed me more. After a couple of minutes, I stood up and stared at my bass, thinking of how it would feel to smash it through the plate glass window of Dairy Queen. Then I realized I was stuck in Libby, Montana without money or friends.

I found a pawn shop downtown and sold my trusty axe. As I handed the instrument over and received the cash, I decided that my music career was officially over. Maybe my momma had been right, “That rock music is the Devil’s music! Ain’t no good gonna come of you playin’ that trash, boy!”

Across the street from the pawn shop was the Amtrack station. I went inside and tried to figure out where to go. I sure as heck didn’t want to go back home. The train didn’t go through that part of Oregon anyway. I bought a ticket to Klamath Falls, in the south east part of my home state.

When destiny shines her glowing head, it sometimes looks like a flyer stuck to the tack-board of a train station in Klamath Falls, Oregon. And when a road-weary traveller such as I happens to glance at such a flyer, then destiny is fulfilled. “Wanted: Hiring help on remote free-range chicken ranch. No experience necessary. Must be able to live and work in remote location and work in inclement weather.” There was a number on the flyer, and with my last quarter I called it up and landed my first real job in years.

Now when they said ‘inclement weather’, I figured they meant that it might rain or something–maybe even drift in a bit of snow. I didn’t know about the bone-cold that settles down in the high desert country. When I arrived at the ranch, driven in an old smoking pickup by Pancho, the geese were flying southward over our heads, honking in unison. Pancho drove me to an old shed where he pointed out some various gear for me to carry back to the pickup, then we drove out onto the sage. I could see the chickens then, vast herds of whites and reds, clucking and squawking and pecking at the ground. Pancho ignored them, driving the pickup straight through the herd, causing them to flutter in awkward panic away from the tires. He pointed out the cracked windshield, “See the heel over there, Senor? Thees is where you stay. Thees is home. Cabasa. Comprende?” I nodded, though the only thing I could see on the hill was a green lumpy bulge. As we got closer, the bulge took form and became a large military tent.

Pancho helpfully threw my stuff out of the truck onto the ground and then ground the gears of the pickup until he found reverse. I watched him as he sped away from me, still in reverse, scattered fowl clucking in wild despair at his retreat. Then I turned and pushed open the door flap of the big tent and stuck my head inside. In the gloom of the vast space, I could see little, but the smell hit me like a drum stick to the head. There was a tarry chemical smell emanating from the fabric of the walls, mixed with the stench of steaming socks hung over a barrel stove, mingled with a stench so foul, I began to retch. “Ha ha ha! Ooh, boy! You must be the newbie, huh boy?” A high-pitched squeal of a voice screamed at me from the darkness, and as my eyes adjusted I could make out a couple of human shapes sitting on lawn chairs near the stove. The large one flashed his teeth at me in a smile and squealed again, “Come on in, boy! You get used to the smell. Here now, sit down, have some beans.”

The large man’s name was Wendell. He was a graduate of Oregon State University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Range Management. As he put it, he spent $20,000 to come and sleep in a farty tent with a Mexican and a Roady, though I tried time and again to explain to him that I had actually been IN the band and was NOT a roady; we HAD to set up our own gear because the record company hadn’t provided us with a crew yet. Wendell didn’t listen. In fact, he never stopped talking long enough for anyone else to say anything. He explained that he had ADD, ADSD, OCD, and various other things when he remembered what they were. Due to his OCD, he was very particular about certain things; he had to have his own portion of the tent, which he designated as “off-limits” to others and out-lined the boundaries thereof with flourescent pink flagging. Each item within his area had to be accounted for and had an assigned spot. On those occasions when an errant hen would invade our tent and run amock through Wendel’s area, Pedro and I would remove ourselves from the vicinity of the tent until Wendell calmed himself sufficiently to warrant our return.

Pedro was the other fellow in the tent. He was a small and wiry man and he didn’t say much. I decided to learn Spanish by conversing with him. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake, as he rarely said any words unless asked. So most of my lessons were self-taught:
“Pedro, how do you say chicken?”
“Pollo.”
“Oh. Pollo. How do you say crazy?”
“Loco.”
“Oh. Loco.”
“Hey Pedro. Pedro. Pedro? Where’d he go?”
Pedro was always sneaking off somewheres to work in solitary.

That first winter on the range, I learned about cold. I learned that when the stars are shining brighter then you ever thought they could, you had better grab a few chickens to stuff into your sleeping bag, ‘cuz it is going to be cold enough to freeze hell over. On those nights, one of us would have to venture out to light the smudge pots across the ranch. The chickens would huddle against these burning diesel pots so closely that the rancid smell of burning feathers would clot your nose and mouth. We worked in shifts, though Wendell would often claim that this was one duty that he could not do, on account of his delicate mental condition. As the winter drew on, I opined to Pedro that Wendell might have picked the wrong career. Pedro just glanced to the northern horizon, and when I looked to see what he was viewing, he slipped away. Sneaky.

In the clear air of the high desert, when one has been abandoned and tossed away, one begins to ponder and pontificate mentally on the meaning of “it all”. And when one’s companions are a blathering giant and a non-English speaking man, one finds one’s self oft seated on a rock on Obsidian Hill, peering at the eastern sky for the hint of pink that will proclaim the new day has come. Peace is here, and solitude.
In silence, makes the man.
In vastness, he understands.
In stillness, all is heard.

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Responses

  1. You know, even though I laughed through much of this, those last three lines blew me away.

    I’m going to think about that for a while.

    This is such a crazy immersive blog, Abe! Once you start reading, you can’t get away. And that’s saying something (especially when the one reading it has a problem keeping focussed on pretty much anything).

    Well done, dude!! Looking forward to the next installment.

    P.S. You’re now on my blogroll too.

    • Okay…my response to you is posted below. Don’t point your finger and snicker at me like you IT guys like to do…I’m still learning, man!

  2. Abe you are a fantastic story teller. I do have to agree that the last lines blew me away, you guru you.

    Those things make the woman too I have found. Sometimes late late at night I will take a walk through my small town. Such a silent calm blankets the night, and the revelation pours over my soul like a soft rain.

    This is funny, deep, devistating then utterly goregous.

    • Brandi! Thanks for your kind words. You have inspired me to open my own Guru Guy Practice.

      You are really learning about the power of silence and being solitary right now, aren’t you. I’ve been there, and I know it. It’s a healing thing–making sure you get enough of that alone time to sort through all those bouncing thoughts and pressures in your head!

  3. Why thank you, Doug! I’m glad you found it immersive…I know exactly what you mean about not being abot to stay focused on things–especially long and rambling blogs. I worry when my blog gets too long that the reader will lose interest, especially if there is something flashy somewhere to click on, or if a beautiful woman (or man) happens to walk through their frame of view. So…there are those blogs that were cast away into the darkness of hard-drive ether–I’m sure you have had some of those, too–blogs that will never see the light of day as they actually made ME lose interest as I wrote them! 🙂

    I do enjoy your blogs for this reason as well. To date, I don’t think you have posted one that did not hold me all the way through. Thanks again, Doug.

    • Yes, I know exactly what you mean, and yes, I have way too many blogs that just never made it to the screen for exactly the reason you mention. Others have made it that shouldn’t have, and I read it through once or twice and realized how bored I was so deleted them before anyone could get a chance to read them.

      Your feedback on the rest is so valuable – thank you for that.

      P.S. I would never (well hardly ever) laugh at someone for making an IT miss-step. In fact, that’s one of the first things I had to learn on WordPress, and I didn’t learn it until I entered my first reply to a comment: to actually click on “reply” before typing.

      I mean, there’s that big empty white space just waiting to be filled – why would anyone want to click on “reply” first?

      And then you see what happens and you go “ohhhhhhh”. 😀

  4. Cool blog Abe…. chaos, noise, distractions, and so many things can clutter our brains and thoughts.

    Stillness, quiet, vast unpopulated spaces, can all bring perspective, given the willingness to be reflective.

    I was waiting for you to be running around chasing the chickens… haha….

    • Hey Drew! Yeah, every time I start writing about those chickens, I get side-tracked and end up talking about something else. That’s how chickens are…distracting! That’s why I hate ’em.

  5. […] Chicken Branding Here, in our third installment of the chronicles of my life as a free-range chicken wrangler, we delve into the psyche of the wrangler and examine the effects of isolation and over-indulgence of beans and rice upon his frame of mind. For the prequel to this story, please read “Chicken Frost”. […]


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