One was scratching out a little depression to sit in, occasionally giving herself a dust bath. Another was leading four chicks, making scratches for them to pick. These are just ordinary chicken things, but I found them so enjoyable.
Why did they make me so happy? I'm not essentially a "bird person." I view the birding world, with its life lists and high-grade binoculars, as slightly wacky. And even as a zoo volunteer I preferred to handle and demonstrate snakes and gators rather than the raptors.
I don't get much avian contact in the city, either. Sure, there are pigeons underfoot and geese overhead, the James River has its ospreys and eagles, and the purple martins regularly roost in Shockoe Bottom, but there seems to be more variety and closeness here on the island. Because I keep the house open, I'm more aware of the bananaquits in my fruit trees, egrets roosting in the bush, the weird turkeylike gobble of the Cuban crow, hummingbirds tasting the flowers and, of course, my neighbors' chickens. And I haven't yet mentioned all the birds at the beach!
This avian awareness seems to seep into my writing, particularly the short stories. In fact, I have one story named "Chickens" and another called "Flamingo." And the first draft of a new manuscript starts with a rooster attacking a young island girl.
Is this significant? Could be. The English major in me might consider my bird thing as escapist imagery or improvisation: flying away to the islands, light as a feather, winging it, yadda yadda yadda. (English majors can be so insufferable!)
More likely, it's a natural part of writing about the islands. The birds are all around here, so they play into the fiction, too. Writers who set their work in New York City usually have a mention or two of taxicabs, the subway, delis and doormen; why shouldn't a story set in North Caicos or "East Taino" include a chicken, a gull or a pelican?
And then, of course, there's a third possibility, one my relatives and close friends will appreciate: Maybe I'm just a birdbrain!