Sunday, August 1, 2010

Where There Is Life There Is Death

Farm sitting isn't the same as being a farmer. I was raised on a farm; it requires a 24/7 commitment. But a few years back, my husband befriended a farmer who was looking for someone to feed his animals every morning while he was at camp. My husband, being retired, thought it was something he and I would enjoy. And we do. I do. But anyone familiar with farming knows that where there is life there is death.

One morning I entered the nursery (a building separate from the chicken coop) to find one mother hen in distress with one chick close by. As soon as she saw me she rushed back to where three more chicks were and clucked frantically. I don't understand chicken talk but call me crazy, I think she was trying to tell me to do something. It's a long story, but me and this particular hen are friends.

At first I thought they were dead, yet as soon as I touched them they moved. And the more I stroked their feathers, the more they responded. I held them close to my body for awhile, they were wet and cold, then placed them in my pocket and went about my chores. Once home, I placed them in a box in a very hot bathroom. Again, they just laid there dying. I ended up sitting on the sofa holding them close the rest of the day. By dinner time they were chirping and pecking at my shirt for food, so we took them back to the farm. I introduced them back into their mother's care with no problems. The next morning, the middle chick was dead.

The second day, of the remaining three, only one of the chicks above and the original black one that had hatched first remained. 

I was raised on a farm with plenty of horses, pigs and chickens, but I'm no farming expert. I've never understood why some animals live and some die before their time. Life is like that, I guess, unpredictable. I do believe that how we react to life and death says a lot about our character. 
When I brought home the three chicks, I did so because I felt the need to make a difference. I gave two of them a bit more time. Or so I think. But who's to say that the result would have been exact the same had I not interfered?

Here's a thought. If I hadn't interfered what story would I be telling you now?

In fiction writing, there are those who believe it's our job to help readers understand life and all its trials and tribulations. That seems like a lot of responsibility to me. I rather think that its our job to tell the story and let the reader figure out the rest.

What do you think?


  1. I so enjoyed the bittersweet account about the chicks.

    I agree 100% about telling the story and letting the reader figure it out. Besides, no matter what--they will have their own interpretation anyway. All readers do, myself inlcuded. That, to me, is part of the beauty of writing and reading.

  2. Thank you, Carol. I feel very optimistic about writing since returning to my WIP. What a blessing to be able to do what we love, eh? Storytelling - what a wonderful way to spend a day.

  3. Joylene,
    I think the most facinating thing is by simply telling our stories, they resonate in the readers differently, depending on their experiences. For example, the effect of your blog has on a soft city girl like me (oh, the poor things) would be different than my Texan husband's (they're just animals-that happens.)

  4. To answer your question, I'm somewhere in the middle.

    To help readers understand life, we'd first have to understand it ourselves. And any writer who believes they understand life still has a lot to learn...

    On the other hand, I do believe one reason many writers are drawn to writing in the first place is because it helps them figure out the answers to the big questions. So whenever we tell a story, in another sense, we are making some effort to understand life, or at least some part of it. Inevitably, if we share the story, we share our fumbling answers as well. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

    This is not to say I think it is a good idea to write "preachy" stories that attempt to force a particular answer on the reader. I don't tend to enjoy those sorts of stories, so I try not to write them, either. But, just by the act of telling a story, selecting certain details and not others, relating the events in a certain way, in every choice that we make we are shaping that story according to the way we make sense of the world around us. The only way to avoid that would be to recount every irrelevant - to us - detail, to offer a dry, factual list of events devoid of any pattern. That isn't anything I'd enjoy reading, either.

  5. @Anonymous -- My husband is the same. His answer is "Mother Nature." I know unwarranted deaths bother him, but he's able to shake them off faster than I am. Thanks for stopping by.

    @Wandering, I have to admit, I'm writing about subjects that perplex me and hoping I can figure stuff out. It's that challenge that drives me to write the story, I think. Hey -- thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. You got me thinking.

  6. I tend to think that it our job to tell the story and allow the reader to come to whatever conclusions that fits their life at that particular moment. I happen to be someone who doesn't always believe in right or wrong, black or white. But when a writer presents us with a story, we do draw our own conclusions, our own understanding of life as we see it.. We sometimes derive a different meaning from the same story.

    Growing up we were always told to let nature take it's course. If something is not meant to live it won't, but it's not such an easy thing to watch and do nothing.

  7. As much as I love animals, I'm not sure I would make a good farmer; it's always hard when any animal dies. In fact, I recently buried my betta in a jewelery box beneath a bush in my yard.

    Then again, my neighbour, who has a few chicks, buries any dead chicks so the wild animals don't get at them. I'm in good company I guess!

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

    Miss Julie

  8. IMHO it's the job of a storyteller to stimulate the imagination rather than force feed the reader. Sometimes lengthy description of surroundings, mood or emotion bog things down & kill the tone & pace of the tale. Cover design plays a role too. The artist working on my cover art for Reckless did one version showing a character's face. It was excellent, but I'd prefer that the readers (both of 'em) create their own 'picture' to carry with them through the story.

    As for farms - forget it. I have a friend who had a pet pig when he was a kid. They named it Bacon. The pet later 'lived' up to its name. Not sure I could devour something that I raised from 'piglethood'. Besides, there's too much stuff to step in on a farm. I step in enough stuff elsewhere.

  9. Hi Joylene,
    This tale you told was emotive and somewhat tinged with sadness.
    Now, I am no 'expert' on fiction writing, or any kind of writing, for that matter. Then again, who is to say what is correct and what is wrong?
    I have a tendency to agree with you. I believe that you tell the story and the reader interprets the meaning from their own perspective.
    Thank you for another insightful posting, Joylene.
    With respect, Gary

  10. @Laura, very insightful. You've made me remember a famous movie that went on to win an academy award, yet half-way I got up from my seat and left the theatre. I felt as if the director was trying to manipulate me into a false emotion. Years, later I watched the entire movie and tho I had to leave the room during the wolf scene, I did end up appreciating the story. It was "Dances With Wolves."

    @Miss Julie, I agree, I think you're in good company. Tell your neighbour thanks.

    @Gary, thank you for your continuing support. You always say the nicest things. I enjoy your blog very much.

  11. Hi Dave, it's so great to have you back blogging. Thanks for the story. When I was a kid we raised cattle. I had a pet calf called Oscar. I won't go into details but we had roast for supper one night and someone asked if I liked how well Oscar tasted. You can imagine the rest. I was in the washroom for quite awhile. It didn't turn me into a vegetarian, but I had to learn to separate the two worlds.

    Thanks, eh!

  12. How sad that the chicks died. I have been a visitor on a farm but I never lived on one. Your story made me think of how although we pour our love into an animal, if it's going to die we have nothing we can do to help it.
    That is unless we take it to a vet.:)

    I have always hated when a story starts to preach to me. Reading is my time for escape and you can't escape when someone is telling you what to do. I think you need to tell your story and let the reader decide what to do. Reading is a very active occupation, because not only is the reader reading what is there, but he or she is also putting it together with what they already know and making connections. Being able to do this brings a new depth to the story. You don't need judgements at this point. I don't think that belongs in a work of fiction.:)

  13. And even the Vet can't always help. That much I've learned. Hi Barbara. Thanks for stopping by. BTW, I really enjoy your blog.

  14. I've read plenty of articles by "experts" that promise once I finish their article I'll know more. I don't want to say anything nasty about those "experts" but most of them have their dink in a knot. Oh, am I allowed to write "dink"? Anyway, I agree with you, Joylene. I think writers should write stories and leave it to me to get something out of.

    Thanks. Good post.

  15. Sweet photos! You improved the quality of what little time the chicks still had and that's compassion in action. "If you do it unto one of the least of these...."

    And I agree, nobody wants to read a novel and hear the author preaching. Telling a story and trying to teach a lesson only go hand in hand in a classroom.

  16. Thank you, Carol. Your words mean a lot.


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