Sharing is caring, but often difficult

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sunset over a prairie

In the winter, I often bring warm water to the chickens. Kitty, the unofficial queen of the coop, always gets to the water first, and as is her custom, pecks authoritatively at the head of anyone who tries to approach. Pippa, the floppy-combed leghorn, runs in circles making forlorn clucking sounds. The others simply stand at a safe distance, waiting. Kitty will dip her narrow beak into the bucket, then throw her feathered cheeks back again and again, gurgling down drops, not letting anyone else have a drink.

It all gets me thinking about an Advent sermon. The readings for the week included a verse in which John the Baptist exhorts the crowds who have come to hear him speak: ‘Anyone who has two coats should share with the one who has none. Anyone with food should do the same.” This verse really struck me because it is not asking you to give away your only coat, to go without warmth in a cold season, it is simply asking that you share what you have, if you have more than you need.

On the drive home after church I couldn’t help but think of the closet by the front door, so jammed with coats the rod is bowed in the middle. There are fancy leather jackets, manure-spattered canvas parkas, knit coats, woolen coats and the coats of deceased relatives that are either five sizes too wide or two sizes too narrow. Many of them we inherited with this house and they haven’t been touched in years. All in all, that closet probably has thirty coats in it.

I’ve given a few away, but I can’t bring myself to part with more. What if we have visitors? What if one of our coats gets ripped or ruined beyond repair? What if we need those coats someday? So, we have thirty adult-sized coats for two adult-sized people, and Kitty has a whole bucket of water while her sisters go thirsty.

Meanwhile, all across the globe, people have set out tiny replicas of a barn, open on one side. In it kneel a man and a woman, perhaps some shepherds, and three men in elaborate gowns. They are looking at a tiny, naked baby, just born. A baby who grows up to tell all who will listen: Help one another, give of yourselves and don’t take more than you need.

Back at the coop, I set down a second dish of water. Kitty was torn between her impulse to guard the first water bucket and her desire to survey the new item I’d introduced. The other hens fluttered down again, and dodging between Kitty’s divided attention, were able to grab a few quick drinks before ascending to their roosts one final time. Kitty relented at last and climbed up to join them.

Just then Ellie rushed in and lapped up the rest of the water with great gusto. I had to chuckle. All that time Kitty spent guarding the water? In the end, she lost it anyway — even a hen as tough as Kitty is no match for a sheepdog.

I walked back to the house, Ellie bounding beside me, looking up at the sky holding the snow. Long after dark, the clouds would finally let go of their cargo, covering the prairie in a thick blanket of white. A blanket that will last until the next thaw, when some of the snow will sink into the earth, collecting underground, waiting for spring so it can be reborn as the grasses and the wildflowers. Some of it will linger in dams and move on to rivers. Some of it will be gathered up by another set of clouds. And some of it just might trickle into a well beside a little pasture on the prairie, where it will be drunk up by a naughty brown hen named Kitty, even though she doesn’t deserve it. But such is the nature of grace for chickens and for us too.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.

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