is back in print. It's based loosely on my experiences working on Kibbutz Mizra.
My friend Rodney worked in the kibbutz chicken coop. He told me all about the chickens,
especially Clara, a chick on the third floor, who wasn't like the others. He lovingly
imitated her nervouse wobble and cluck. I envied Rodney. The chicken coop seemed like
friendly, funny place to work.
I had been working in some very boring and unappealing places like the cemetery and
laundry (diaper section, don't ask.) A family crisis forced Rodney to return home to South
Africa and I begged to take his place in the chicken coop. When I read the work list
and learned that I had been given his job, I was ecstatic.
The next day, wearing Rodney's old hat, his long sleeved shirt, and his rubber boots, I
stood in front of the four-story kibbutz chicken coop eager to begin work. I was soon to
enter scared ground. The enchanted chicken coop.
Haim, the kibbutznik in charge of training me, took me to the chicken coop's elevator.
Together we rode up to the fourth floor, where the oldest and sickest chickens resided. A
dead chicken was in our path.
Haim picked it up. "Happens." He shrugged.
Not in Rodney's stories, I thought.
The other floors of the chicken coop were very noisy. The chickens pecked and poked
and were unwilling to move, making it impossible for me to gather their eggs.
"Sometimes you have to push the chickens off. Like this," said Haim.
It looked to me like Haim was hurling a chicken across the room.
"Doesn't that hurt the chickens?" I asked.
"They don't mind it," he said. "See. Then you take the eggs."
My head itched under my hat. My hand was already covered with scratches from the
pecking chickens. My nose was rebelling against the pungent air. I stood still a moment
and then I knew. Every part of my body knew. The chicken coop was a terrible place to
work. I thought about Rodney and his stories about Clara and the other chicks and
smiled. Rodney was a great storyteller and a great teacher.
I learned that day there in a four-story chicken coop, on Kibbutz Mizra in the
Jezreel Valley, that even amid hurling chickens, piles of hay and eggs, flying chicken feathers and
sticky chicken droppings, noisy clucking and pecking, there were stories to be found.