These Chickens, This Life

One night last fall, my husband defended our chickens against an invading possum, armed with a sword and wearing night vision goggles, holding a flashlight and hooting like a madman in the darkness. I was standing on the shabby backyard deck observing, holding a baby on my hip while the rain fell, and the wind whipped my thin white nightgown around my legs. I wouldn’t have heard the scrabble and squawk of hens in danger, but my husband sleeps lightly, ever alert, and he roused me for back up. I wonder if he also wanted me to witness his work here; defending our home from attack. My gentle husband, who gets precious little opportunity to rescue us.

My husband was a stay-at-home dad for years, while I was out working in sales. His skills in information technology slipped farther and farther into obsolescence, but he quietly became the parent the toddlers cried for when hurt or sleepy. I pumped my breast milk at hotels and in the bathrooms at trade shows, and brought it home to him in freezer bags. When my commissions vanished, he lined up with scores of hopeful applicants at the most menial of jobs, and went through a series of interviews after which he landed a something that paid barely over minimum wage, and we were so grateful. We would have insurance. He was tearful in his quiet, strong way the night before he’d be leaving the kids for the first time. He almost never complains about his work, just says, “today was hard,” if I ask. He leaves it at that.

After that close call with the possum and the chickens, we started placing a big stone at the entrance to the coop each evening after they all make their way inside. Every evening, right as dusk sets and the western sun has dipped below the windows and the house is no longer filled with that golden light, the hens enter one by one, acting like they’ve only just thought of it, as though each time is their first: Hey, here’s an idea: why don’t we go into this here coop? No, after you.

We’ve come to rely on the eggs, and consistently get four or five a day. Dried beans can become monotonous, so this is thrilling reprieve. Scrambled, hard-boiled, poached, stirred into ramen noodles, mixed into pancakes that are more egg than flour—we’ve done it all. They skirt the rules our landlord has about no pets, as they’re not fur-bearing and they don’t live inside. Mostly they eat what they forage in the big backyard, which we’ve now turned over to them after futile efforts to control and contain the poop situation. They gather beneath the window when they hear it slide open, knowing to expect the pinched-off bits of stale heels of bread, and half-eaten apples that have turned brown sitting on the coffee table. They love watermelon rinds, and will pick at them until the striped green skin that’s left looks like a popped balloon, puckered and flimsy. It’s important nothing go to waste.

And it was last weekend that my husband and I crawled along the perimeter of the house, searching for rat holes we could block with wadded-up steel wool. They’re starting to pilfer the feed, and we can’t have them threatening egg production. The ants in the upstairs bathroom are of little concern to me. I look at them as I would look at dirt that moves, which doesn’t sound enlightened at all. But we have forged an uneasy peace. If they happen to make their way into the shower stall, they will feel the fatal sting of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap, otherwise they are free to take shelter from the wet and cold along these baseboards. I address them with grudging tolerance. I see you’re still here. If you make your way to the kitchen, there will be trouble.

We have come a distance from our pristine life of suburban affluence, and when I look around at this crumbling underpriced rental that has provided harbour, it’s hard to remember what we had before. And now: the train whistle, the rowdy hoboes, our apple tree, our orange tree, the vegetables in the front yard, these chickens.

About the writer

Corbyn Hanson Hightower is a forty-one year old mother-of-three who likes to write poetic essays about life as a creative and free-spirited mom living in post-Recession simplicity and colorful poverty. She is hoping to publish a memoir. Read more here.


JennysNook 4 years ago

Sometimes it’s good to hear about other people’s difficulties. It’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who has them. Thanks for such a real blog entry. It’s raw and beautifully written. I love your writing. I was totally there in your backyard with you while reading that.

Logan 4 years ago

Hi Corbyn–I came across your article in Nation of Change on your rental house. You write with a wonderful mixture of poignancy and humor–reminiscent, to me, of the inimitable Anne Lamott. Please keep writing–and know that these–as well as all circumstances–bear fruit in time. Best, Logan

anonymouslyyours 5 years ago

We’re on the brink of our own recession too. I loved this enough to give a few dollars ~ because I’m feeling “rich” right now, even in my state of being broke. Thank you, Corbyn. 😉

Jenny 5 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this! I’m thinking about following you on Twitter.

    Corbyn Hightower 5 years ago

    Follow me on Facebook instead! I rarely post on Twitter.

      Jenny 5 years ago

      alright, how can I find you there?

        Corbyn Hightower 5 years ago

        I’m sorry for the delay; have you found me? I operate on Facebook under the name Corbyn Hanson Hightower. (I’m so stealth! ha!) I’m quite active there, so you may want to hide my posts after awhile . . .

Greenrubyroses 5 years ago

Most interesting story…I loved it! Keep writing and best of luck!

Michelle Saunderson 5 years ago

Love it. I suddenly have a desire to raise chickens….

Kika 5 years ago

Incredibly engaging. As i read it, I felt like I was standing there with you as your husband protected the roost. Thanks so much for this beautiful piece, look forward to reading more.

SL Schildan 5 years ago

Your story was so engaging, that I frantically hunted for the MORE button when I got to the bottom of the page. It was with great disappointment that I discovered that was all. It was exactly what you were trying to tell us: It Was Enough.

Thank you. Hugs, Shari

    Corbyn Hightower 5 years ago

    Shari, thank you so much for your kind words! More of my writing can be found on my website, Again, thank you. xo

Ninja Mom 5 years ago

Beautifully done. You’ve got a gift.

Leisl 5 years ago

We are the sum of our experiences in life. It sounds like u and yours are quite something! And at the end of the day, a man is still a man and needs reassuring that he’s being the man & protecting his own. What a beautiful way to hOnour your man

Jeanine 5 years ago

I think you have a lot to say about the state of our lives at this time in history. You say it simplistically, using the chickens to show that many of us are in a far different place than we once were. It is disheartening in so many ways, yet you show, & we all eventually know that we have to accept our situations as they come. I have a feeling you and I have followed a similar path. Though our circumstances may differ somewhat, I know what it is like to look up and see a whole different world out your window (your rental window). You continue to roll with the punches, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. I appreciate your post very much.

Ruth 5 years ago

First, I love your name. I named my son Corbin and it holds a special place in my heart as he passed away two months ago.

Your writing is so smooth and effortless. I could feel the wind and hear the chickens. And the visual of your husband! I loved that!

Great job.

Devan @ Accustomed Chaos 5 years ago

wow. such beautiful writing.

Ally 5 years ago

Wonderful writing. You say so much – I wish more could read it.

Jennifer 5 years ago

This post is lyrical. I could almost hear music playing in the background as I read it. Truly beautiful and real. Thanks for sharing a piece of your story.

MelissaThinks 5 years ago

Your imagery is so powerful. I can see the chickens, the ants, your brave husband. I agree with all the other comments, your writing is beautiful. I suspect that is because it comes from a beautiful soul. I wish you and your family enough and overflowing joy.

Michelle Painter 5 years ago

Wow. Just wow. So beautifully written; I felt like I was right there on that deck, watching her husband battle. Just amazing.

Kristie 5 years ago

Great post. My mom has chickens and my girls and I adore them. My 4 year old would live on scrambled eggs if we’d let her. Props to your hubby for defending his roost.

Jennifer Ford 5 years ago

I love me some Corbyn Hanson Hightower! Scary Mommy, you should feature her more often. :)

Not only is Corbyn’s writing voice engaging (and somehow soothing), her subject matter always leaves me feeling convicted and inspired to do more with less.

    Katie 5 years ago

    You shared my sentiments so much more poignantly than I could. Reading her work does make me want to do more with less.

christy 5 years ago

What a beautifully written post. I hope things get easier for you soon – you should submit your work to magazines! I’d love to see you as a columnist!

Amy I. Bloom 5 years ago

You are a lovely writer. I hope your writing brings you satisfaction, peace, and yes, lots of money someday soon.

Amanda 5 years ago

I agree with dysfunctional mom-I wish you enough. We as a society have become indoctrinated to the idea that if we have more or plenty than that is what is necessary for happiness. When really all we need is enough. Yes it is harder. But as someone who has lived this way my whole life (31yrs) I promise that it only makes your entire family unit closer than you can imagine and closer than most of the families who have plenty-plenty of space, toys, food,etc.

Julie 5 years ago

Thank you, Corbyn. You are rich in talent and character for sure…can’t wait to read more.

Megan 5 years ago

Wow can I relate to you and your story. To think two years ago I was living in a 4500 sq ft house and today I live in a one bedroom apartment with my two kids. We (your family and mine) do what we have to to get by. It’s not always easy. It’s not always pleasant, but it’s when we can look at even the little things with wonder and excitement that it makes it all worth it. When you can share this amazing life with us it gives us a moment to pause and reflect on the recessions effect on everyone, not just ourselves. Thank you.

heather clark 5 years ago

oh–i read somewhere possums& rats don’t like the smell of vinegar. not sure how chickens feel about it.

heather clark 5 years ago

thai curry noodle. rice noodles, egg, lots of green onion (i snip the tops &plant the roots in the garden), a couple chilis, red or green curry & coconut milk. some lime squeeze. totally different take on egg.
best of luck with everything. wishing you & the chickens all the best.

Jane Quick 5 years ago

You have a truely beautiful way with words. To be able to turn the mundane into poetry is a gift I am most envious of. I will keep my eye out for more of your work.

JINNI 5 years ago

You should write a book, your writing has such an elegance that make your readers want to continue on, then feel bumed when they reach the end of you story.

Rachel 5 years ago

I grew up very much like you are living now. We barely got by from day to day and relied heavily on food we grew or raised ourselves. This life is very hard and I hope you and your family soon find more stable ground to build your lives on. On a brighter note, your children will likely have a greater appreciation for all that life offers them. Good luck on getting published.

Marta 5 years ago

The writing was amazing. I could keep reading more and more and I will!

I wish you tons of luck!

knotty daughters 5 years ago

Chickens. So much to learned from chickens, they really are part of the family.

crazypants 5 years ago

Beautifully written, and just gave me a serious check to get my gratefulness in order. Thank you for this.

mommy23girls 5 years ago

Wishing you all the best and that the rats and possoms stay away!
Thank you for sharing your touching story with us!

Erin 5 years ago

wow. this is beautifully written and extremely touching. It certainly puts things back into perspective.

I wish you a streak of good luck and all the love in the world~~

lauren scheuer 5 years ago

Thank you, Corbyn, for your beautiful story.

Mel 5 years ago

You have a lovely way with words; I felt absolutely transported to your back yard with you. How awesome that you all are surviving together and remaining a family even though financial times have become hard. Not everyone could do it.

Wendy 5 years ago

Your writing is beautiful. I also hope things get easier for you; I also look forward to reading more of your writing!

Tina Sutherland 5 years ago

I just have to add that one phrase, “dirt that moves” has changed my mind about ants forever. We live in an RV and recently had such an invasion (stay out of Texas!), but I will be calmer when they come back due to your enlightened view.
And good luck to the chickens!

Life with Kaishon 5 years ago

Oh my.
What a difficult existence. I hope things get better for you soon.
Very soon.
We had chickens when we were growing up. I don’t think we needed the eggs, my Daddy just wanted to be a farmer.

Anthony from CharismaticKid 5 years ago

Wait… at first I thought you lived on a farm the way the story was going… but now you have a landlord with a no pet rule and you are finding loopholes to have fresh backyard-raised eggs?

You guys rock.

dysfunctional mom 5 years ago

I am just in awe of this post. So well written and yet plainly stated.
A quote that is always floating around in my head comes to mind: “I wish you enough”.


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