She’s beautiful and well educated. She’s the product of the Marlborough School for Girls in Los Angeles and a graduate of Colby College in Maine. She studied and lived in Paris and London and speaks French fluently. She’s an account executive for a prestigious international publisher operating out of Los Angeles.

Then why, one asks, is she on her knees outside a chicken coop in 103 California degrees, with a hand full of meal worms, making chirping sounds to three little chicks? Full disclosure: She’s my daughter. Next question?

Later, she will clean the coop and then set about weeding the organic garden aside the house she shares with her partner Rick, on a quiet street in South Pasadena. Rick is busy picking arugula for their dinner salad.

These two unlikely urban Angeleno farmers fell in love over a simple salad of arugula, tomatoes and feta cheese. Now, they grow these vegetables together in the shadow of a brand new chicken coop.

A father could not be happier … or more jealous, not of a house in South Pasadena or the 103 degrees, nor of the organic garden, but of the chicken coop, and their three lovely hens.

Last year, when the rumor that one could actually raise chickens right here in beautiful Waterville, was being tossed about the halls of the City Council, those of us of a certain age who grew up in a more agrarian time of life in America, were suddenly swept up in a big coop of nostalgia.

I, for one, am still planning a coop on my property should I have the requisite dimensions as demanded by local law. As I reported in this space last year, I have talked to various other chickenistas as to the problems, joys and demands of the art. Now that it’s back on the front burner at City Hall, I’m excited.

My passion for the eatable feathered friends goes back to my early childhood. We had a big house on the corner across from the convent, where the landscaping nuns, yes there is such an order of sorts, raised not just chickens but rara avis of many colors.

They were free range, of course, and during the quiet years of the war, would drift across the street to our yard and peck around. Adding to this group, Haag’s Market, owned by the protestant Haag brothers up the alley, had a big pen of chickens in its backyard who would get out and wander down to join the Catholic chickens to form a sort of ecumenical cluckster in the late afternoon.

Somehow, during the mid-thirties, when boxcar tops full of wandering, jobless Americans rolled through town two streets down from us, several of the birds began to disappear. The Haag brothers put the clamp on their flocks’ fraternization with the Catholic birds, and the good sisters posted a sentinel. So much for feeding the poor.

I guess my stories infected the imagination of my daughter and her new love. Rick, ever the green citizen, built a superior coop out of recycled wood, and my Dawn, ever the Hollywood child, set about naming the birds: The Rhode Island Red is named Rita after Rita Hayworth, because she has a reddish hue. Her eggs, I’m told, will be light brown. The Buff Orpington is named Jean after Jean Harlow, because she has a blond tint. Her eggs will be beige or blue. And finally, Myrna, after Myrna Loy, who is the darkest, is an Aracauna who will lay colored eggs just in time for Easter.

Now that the city of Waterville is reconsidering giving the birds a hand, I’ve formed my three choices. The Silver Sebright bantam, because I have a sport jacket that matches her plummage. The Araucana, because I look good in black, and finally, the Barrock. A political move. Where do I buy chicken wire?

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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