For the past week or so, the coop has been aflooff (I just invented that word, but none other would do) with feathers and down. The chickens are staging a mass molt. According to flockkeeper lore, molting ain’t fun for anybody. The girls are dropping their old plumage and growing their new. From an evolutionary perspective, it must be part of what links chickens to their close reptilian cousins (scientists tell us that chickens are direct descendants of the T. rex) — shedding skin, shedding feathers.
They do seem pretty miserable. Most of them aren’t laying, and they look pathetic — all mangy and scraggly. And they’re cranky and tired — Victoria spent all day in a nesting box last week. (The rain, mud, cold temperatures, and short days don’t help.) It takes a lot of energy to build new feathers.
I wonder if the girls chose the turn into new year for their big molt on purpose. It seems like a good idea, to slough off all the old, dead stuff and to replace it with something tender and delicate with new life, with potential to be healthy and luminous and resilient. Clean out the closets, the expired foodstuffs in the pantry. Let go of past resentments and fears — the scars that have formed over old wounds.
It’s a hell of a process — uncomfortable, exhausting, even ugly — but aren’t we ready to be shed of those vestiges and welcome whatever comes next?
When I cleaned the coop the other day, all those dropped feathers went with the straw and manure into the compost. It’s not as if the old stuff is to be left behind and forgotten. It will work under the surface now, in new, hidden ways. It starts the cycle over again, preparing to help nourish the spring garden.
I’ve felt a bit bedraggled this holiday season, myself. Guess I was due a good molt. For the days of auld lang syne.