The end of summer

Traveling home from Canada is always bittersweet, partly because it means vacation is over and partly because I’m looking forward to getting home to (this is embarrassing) my cats. I know they sit around waiting for me, looking for me. I have this on good authority—not just from the cats themselves. But my across-the-street neighbor Sonya who takes care of my cats (thanks, Sonya!) tells me that they do. I believe her because when she’s gone, her cats have looked around for her when she’s gone, racing to the door as I open it and then shrinking back when they realize I’m not her.

So as Dick and I drove down from Vancouver Island, we made stops in Washington and Oregon to visit with friends who, like us, once worked for The Sacramento Bee newspaper. I left (OK, was laid off) long ago, in the mid-1980s, and had the shortest tenure of, well, just about anybody who’s ever worked there. Dick had the pleasure of a 40-year career (39 of them with The Bee and a most memorable year in Honolulu at the Star-Bulletin) in journalism before he retired.

Our Washington friends, Edie Lau and Jon Williams, ace reporter and photographer/page designer, respectively, amazed us years ago by moving around the country to different newspapers, trying to find a niche. They lived separately for years, even after they married, trying to find the right paper. They eventually came back to Sacramento at the same time to work at The Bee. But now they have found an even better life in Poulsbo, Washington, for themselves, their daughter Riis, their two dogs, Comet and Georgia, and six chickens. 

When we first visited them not long after they’d moved to Poulsbo, where Jon found work on a small newspaper, we were impressed with all the work they’d done on their new home—especially in creating a garden and Jon’s incredible woodwork inside and out. The second time we visited, we were charmed by the Lau/Williams flock of chickens who, while they produce eggs, are more family than food source. Edie told me on this visit that as the girls age, the question of what to do with them arises. Do you let them move gracefully into their chicken dotage or do you put them on the table? 

Edie and Jon say they don’t know the answer to that one—their girls are not that old yet—but I can tell you, especially when we saw Jon holding Kiev, one of their Russian Orloffs—I think the girls will live long, happy lives between their coop and their back yard until they gracefully exit through natural means.

Edie Lau and Jon Williams with daughter Riis, dogs Georgia (left) and Comet (right) and hen Kiev.

Except maybe not poor Kiev, who is, quite literally, hen-pecked by her roommates. She has lost feathers; she is made to sit on all their eggs, to brood, even though there is no chance the eggs will hatch. (A rooster is not in the stars for this flock.) 

Still, Kiev seemed to perk up a bit when the family launched a brief search after she’d gone missing in the yard. Jon picked her up, and though Kiev struggled a bit (hens are apparently not good lap pets), she tolerated his attentions and posed for a nice family portrait.

Jay Mather and Diane Russell in Sisters, Oregon

Our friends Jay Mather and Diane Russell live in Sisters, Oregon, and they don’t have chickens—though they do have two cats, Luna and Noir. They left Sacramento only a few years ago, too, and have made a lovely home and yard in the high desert of Oregon. They, too, are both retired (Diane from UC Davis), something I envy even more as I face the onslaught of school again. Jay, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, still shoots for fun, as Dick does, and is an avid bicyclist and woodworker. Diane is a great cook and gardener. Together, they are creating an oasis of peace and serenity there in Sisters. 

This is all to say that there is life after newspapers, though I certainly didn’t think so when The Bee gave me the heave-ho twenty-five years ago. We journalists go on; we even thrive out in the “real” world or, if we’re lucky, in retirement. I worked for other media outlets and enjoyed them before falling into teaching journalism and writing full time. I am grateful for that, too. Sometimes it takes us a while to find our place in the world, that comfortable spot where we know we’re meant to be. Some people never do find that spot.

So I’m still thinking of poor Kiev, the hen-pecked hen, the low girl on the totem pole of her flock, who apparently gets shooed back into the coop to sit on everyone’s eggs. Someone’s gotta do it, after all. Someone’s gotta sit and do the job no one else wants to do. And sometimes, to us non-chickens, it looks like Kiev is under duress when, really, she’s the zen one, meditating to her chicken mantras, knowing she’s right where she’s meant to be.

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About janishaag

Writer, writing teacher, editor
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