Living in Our Digital World (with Chickens)

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Chickens really do go “Bock! Bock! Baaaa-ock!” like in every cartoon you’ve ever seen or joke you’ve ever heard.

I know this firsthand because our neighbor’s chickens make this very cartoonish call a lot lately. In fact, I can hear them right now bock, bock, bocking with a strange, urgent, panicky tone. I’ve learned in a few short weeks that chickens rarely ever sound mellow and at ease.

I’ve learned all this because the neighbor has been building a coop for them and it’s caused quite a stir. He’s been doing it for some time, actually. His wife gave him the project a month ago and he’s been buzz-sawing and hammering away ever since.

Our neighbor looks like everyone’s dad. Stocky, rounded, balding. Younger when you look at him up close but grizzled and weary when he thinks no one’s looking. You know, like all of our dads.

When he first started on this project, he was very gung-ho and cheerful about it. He said he liked building something with his hands. Something real. Something tangible. It was a good change, he said, breaking away from software development for one of those really huge software companies you’ve heard of. He’s one of those people — contributing the fuel to our digital world, making all those ones and zeroes flit about on our screen, making them do something at our command.

That need to break away from the digital to the physical world was something I heard before. It was the same thing a burned-out executive told me about why he supposedly left his highly-placed marketing job at a local airline. He wanted to spend more time in his garden. “All I did was send emails all day long. I didn’t really do, or make, anything. At least when I’m pulling weeds, I can tell I did something, even if no one else can.”

Such is weeding. And emails.

I have a strange fascination with people who work in the physical world, not on a computer, like me. People who use their hands and bodies to bake cakes, make cocktails, build skyscrapers, deliver packages. At the end of their day, with perhaps an aching back, they can point to all that they’ve done. Me? Periodically I look up from my screen and notice it’s sunny out and then go back to moving ones and zeroes, making links, writing content, connecting, in my way, with the world beyond. It does feel a little flat sometimes, I confess, and so I have a newfound appreciation for weeding.

The other day, our neighbor was out on his porch, sawing more wood. Asked how the chicken coop was coming along, that cheerful disposition and pride of activity left his face. He shook his head and said, “I just want the damn thing done.”

Those bocking chickens will one day have a palace. And if they tire of their new coop, perhaps our neighbor can use it as a home office.

Bock bock!

Photo used with permission from: Rebecca Mongrain

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