There ain’t nobody here at all
You’re stompin’ around
And shakin’ the ground,
You’re kickin’ up an awful dust –Alex Kramer & Joan Whitney
I live in Waterville, Maine, a small town of about 15,000 people located on the west bank of the Kennebec River. It is a near-idyllic place, with tidy homes plotted in neatly trimmed neighborhoods. There are enough cultural attractions to allay suspicions that it might be a hick town, but enough remnants of a recent rural past to give it postcard quaintness. People are friendly here. Neighbors smile and wave. It is a reasonable place to live.
Nevertheless, I sense the impending tumult of political discord here. Small towns are—or once were—a microcosm of our national character, neither immune nor oblivious to infections of vitriol, ballyhoo or gobbledygook. Soon, I fear, Waterville will be consumed by such an infection. I will be of no help in stopping it and, very likely, will contribute to its spread.
Last night, the Waterville City Council unanimously voted to allow citizens the right to own chickens. It is the first of three times the council will vote on this ordinance. If passed in the two upcoming votes, this ordinance will allow citizens to own up to six hens—no roosters allowed—to be housed in coops on property of at least 10,000 square feet. Coops will not be allowed in front yards, and are to be located at specified distances relative to their neighbors’ homes and water sources. Inspection fees will be required. The onus of removing the manure is on the owners of the chickens. Chickens, the ordinance says, may only be owned “as pets or for personal use”.
Even before the chicken ordinance came to a vote last night, many of my fellow citizens were writing their opinions—pro and con—to the local newspaper. All opinions seemed unyielding, some implying diabolic intentions in either allowing or preventing chicken ownership, while other letters were merely odious diatribes that had nothing at all to do with chickens, eggs or, for all I could tell, anything. Such are the aroused passions of modern political discourse.
It seems as if the lines have been drawn. Factions are arising, from which fringe elements will likely sprout, touting their particular interests, and crying foul of every utterance against them. The outcries of dissonance will deafen all to the benefit of reason and compromise, making the cure-all of time no more than a faint echo of the past repeating itself, clucking and crowing retooled slogans and dogma.
Anti-chicken factions will likely purvey the argument that chickens are loud, filthy animals, capable of attracting vast herds of vermin and predatory varmints to all of the orderly neighborhoods, whereby pets such as cats and dogs—not to mention human toddlers—will be mangled, eaten or infected with rabies. Outbreaks of avian flu are a distinct possibility. Such a thing occurring would be a calamity requiring a statewide quarantine, collapsing the economy, and forcing change of the unofficial state motto from “the way life should be” to “the place where life no longer exists”.
All of this will arouse radical fringe elements, some of which will note that chickens are descended from dinosaurs and, in fact, are only a few DNA strands shy of being miniature versions of Tyrannosaurus rex. They will further note that Godzilla was probably a Tyrannosaurus rex, that it will be a matter of time before chickens develop the ability to expel fiery death rays capable of incinerating everyone and everything in Waterville.
It will be an uphill battle for the pro-chicken faction if this proposed ordinance goes to referendum. Proponents of owning chickens will have to arduously promote the benefits of sustainable living. They will note that, in these tough economic times, the cost of erecting and maintaining henhouses will be diffused by a steady supply of fresh eggs and six chicken dinners per year for each owner of chickens, thereby becoming a cost-effective venture in no less than ten generations.
Each generation will enjoy the many benefits of avian husbandry. Families will bond in the joyous duties of gathering eggs, raking manure and making compost, promulgating better health and ending obesity as the result of these rigorous activities. Children will realize every child’s dream of having more household chores. Everyone will bask in the warmth, love and loyalty of their clever pet chickens.
The pro-chicken faction will have its fringe elements also. These elements will mire all sensible debate in hypothetical minutia: Why are roosters excluded? Why only six chickens per household? What if an egg inadvertently hatches? What if the chick is a rooster? Will it be killed? What about people who live in apartment buildings? Why can’t they own chickens too? Do chickens really run around after their heads are cut off? Do our children really need to see this? And on and on it will go. It would not be too far fetched to believe that this fringe group will attempt to put a rider on this ordinance that would include citizen ownership of rabbits, lizards, snakes—anything that tasted like chicken—in order to avoid giving anyone a reason to take offense, including the chickens.
But, of course, none of this will happen, at least not to the caricatured degree that I have described. This is Waterville, Maine. It is a reasonable place. Governance is a straightforward process here. There are debates, inflamed by the passions of factions, but most arguments seek solutions and are not engaged for their own sake. Not everybody gets what he or she wants, precisely as they want it, or exactly when they want it. Responsibility takes precedence over blame; and action supersedes the bombast of slogans and dogma. There is little taint of money, mysteriously given, and used to curry favor or reward for the benefit of a powerful few. There are no nefarious shadows preparing to darken the well being of all who live here. Chickens here, are just chickens.
But what do I know? I am merely an unemployed chef with very little education. There are limits to my powers of observation. Considering this, I feel that I can confidently make one observation that is indisputable: I know the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit.