Rufina comes home to roost, Part 1: Meet The Garcia Sisters
I’m on my way to Mexico this week but I thought I’d squeeze in an update about my favorite blind chicken, Rufina (her story begins here), and her new companions.
Meet the Garcia sisters.
More about them later. First, Rufina’s story continues from last summer…
Back in late July when it became clear that hers was not a fleeting vitality, Rufina posed a slight dilemma for me: her days on the studio porch were limited by the impending winter, and I had nowhere else to keep her and no money for a custom coop. She had made great progress learning to be blind, transforming from a sedentary spoon-fed creature into a confident navigator who used her outstretched neck like a blind cane, locating food and water with her feet.
I thought her rehabilitation, now nearly complete, should end with independence: a restored state of pullus libertatum where she could come and go as she pleased, no longer reliant on me to carry her to and from the garden, risking accidental death by Whippet not to mention a gradual, perilous evolvement into house pet.
So, in deference to the greater good and Rufina’s true nature, I made the decision to send her off in August to live with a friend’s two chickens in another part of the city, where I imagined she would spend the rest of her days as an ordinary, fulfilled flock member.
“Vacation” lasted approximately seven weeks. During that time, I realized that her story is only half-lived, would never be ordinary, and I wanted to see it through to the end. Whenever that may be. I was inspired by the account of Old Man Henry’s passing, written by the talented Jared Gulian on his fantastic blog (now book!), Moon Over Martinborough. Plus, I discovered that the burgeoning urban chicken trend in this country has spawned a whole industry of inexpensive readymade coops that ship right to your door.
So, yes. I reclaimed Rufina and Isabella and I have joined the legions of backyard chickeneers.
Of course, I would never bring Rufina home to live a solitary life, so I set about finding some chicks.
It’s not easy to find baby chicks in October. I researched local and online sources and learned a lot about chickens. For example, did you know that chickens are categorized by not only size/weight, egg size/color, and fancy/dorky, but also cold hardiness, country of origin, and personality? Yeah, me neither! I always thought a chicken was more or less a chicken.
I eventually found chicks at a local bait store and chose two Buff Orpingtons (English heritage) because they were described as “quiet, docile, and affectionate.” Sounded like the ideal chicken to me!
Thankfully, The Garcia sisters live up to their breed description and are completely different from their filthy little predecessors,the Crazed Amerucanas*. They aren’t skittish or frantic, don’t thrash around when we pick them up, and gently scrape the poop off their giant feet should they happen to misstep. True to their British ancestry, these “Buffs” are polite, private, and vaguely repressed.
*Disputed ancestry, Peru-Chile-American mix-up, an identity crisis that may explain their tendencies toward the maniacal
Unfortunately, they are also terrified of Rufina. I don’t know why. Well, except that she viciously pecks them whenever they touch her. There is that. They learned quickly during their first short visits to stay out of her way. Maybe they don’t even realize that the big black pecking machine is also a chicken (?).
In any case, they are adapting to life in the coop during the day, and back to their indoor chick box at night until they’re fully feathered. Rufina seems content, climbing up the ramp to her new roost whenever she wants, dirt or sun bathing as the mood strikes her, gorging on water. Perhaps she will be happier when I have time to enclose the 6′ x 8′ former garden bed for more room to roam.
But for now, she lives as any other chicken would and from a distance you can’t tell, you wouldn’t know she’s blind except for maybe her creeping, careful steps but up close, up close you can see it: the deformed gunshot side and the moving side, under the skin where her one good eye used to be, now shrunken and receded into the mystery of her head but some part of it still alive, back-and-forth, back and forth shifting under blue-black skin as she listens and responds with that one dead eye to the million little heartbeats and secrets of her dark world.
Part 2 to follow.