Molting season

Earlier this fall, our chickens started molting. For weeks the three of them drooped around the yard, trailing feathers and a tangible air of discontent. Standoffish and sullen, they shied away from our attempts to pick them up and pet them — a routine they normally delight in — with indignant squawks of protest. Egg production screeched to a halt.

The first time this happened a couple of years ago, I panicked, convinced that the distressing loss of feathers and eggs was somehow my fault, a testament to my glaring lack of skills as an urban farmer. But now, as a seasoned chicken mama, I’ve learned that molting season is part of the natural cycle. Hens just need time and space to let nature take its course. Soon enough, new feathers will appear, along with eggs.

I got to thinking about this last weekend as I was driving out to the coast with my husband. West of our city, the highway to the sea winds through miles of rolling farmland, and in late autumn the fields are blanketed with a quilt of muted browns and rusts and hazy golds. The remains of fall’s harvest have been plowed under, and the earth will lie still until spring, gathering energy for a new season of growth. The trees skirting the distant hills appeared equally lifeless, their branches shorn of leaves and stark against the sky, but this was also an illusion, for in a few months they’ll be cloaking themselves once again in green.

Writers have fallow seasons as well. There are times when the outlook is bleak, and we mope around the house as peevish as molting chickens, convinced that we’ll never write anything worthwhile again. I had a stretch of writer’s molt earlier this fall, and it wasn’t pretty. But last weekend, as I watched the seemingly barren landscape slip past the window of my car, it occurred to me that we are a part of the natural cycle as well. Trees drop their leaves; chickens drop their feathers; fields and writers need time to lie fallow. 

Late last week our chickens started laying eggs again. Production was sporadic at first, one here, one there, until this morning, when I went out early to feed them and found three eggs waiting in the nest. “Our girls are back on the job,” I reported to my husband when I returned to the kitchen, pulling the smooth ovals from my bathrobe pocket as evidence. 

I’m back on the job, too, after a fallow fall, full of renewed energy as I plunge once more into the fray, back onto the battlefield that is the empty page, where I work to wrest meaning from words and shape them into stories. I hope you’re writing, too, or productive in other fields of life, but if not, be patient with yourself.  You might just be molting!