I anticipated a few things when I volunteered to work as an interpreter at Historic Hat Creek. The Poultry Posse wasn’t one of them.
Let me rewind a bit. When the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch were informed that a volunteer or two was needed at the site in September, to greet visitors in the 1862 roadhouse and tell them stories of the Cariboo Gold Rush and the site’s history, I put my hand up. There are a lot of things I can’t do — change the oil in my car, make a pie crust that doesn’t have the consistency of library paste, or blow out my sprinkler system, to name but three — but local history and storytelling are both in my wheelhouse.
So there I was last week, opening up the roadhouse not long after 8 a.m. I’d been out there with Reni Lind, interpreter extraordinaire, to go through the start of day routine, which not only involved getting the roadhouse ready but opening up various outbuildings (17 doors — some of them huge double doors — and one window on eight buildings), and feeding and watering four sheep, three pigs, and two cats.
Which is where the Poultry Posse comes in.
My experience of chickens was, up to that point, limited to cooking and eating them. “Chicken feed” was a small amount of money, and eggs were clean and neatly packaged in handy boxes. Laura Ingalls Wilder I am not. Yet there I was, measuring out seed and feed and a pinch of oyster shell into a galvanized bucket and heading out in my period dress and straw hat to feed the 14 chickens and check for eggs.
News flash: fresh eggs are not clean. They have … things … stuck to them. The ones from Safety Mart do not have things stuck to them. I was also surprised, when I checked the henhouse at the end of the first day, to find five eggs nestled in a single nesting box. “That’s one ambitious, and probably sore, chicken,” was my first thought. However, it appears that the chickens have a favourite box, which they share, conjuring up images of an impatient line of chickens, queued up and waiting their turn.
The chickens at Hat Creek are nothing if not free range, with the run of the property, and it was amusing to watch them strutting around, stalking who knows what in the grass and gravel. I soon found, however, that they had a habit of tailing me. I would be walking across the lawn from point A to Point B and look behind to see a long, straggling line of chickens following in my wake.
This was fine, and somewhat amusing, but it became less so when I went to water the sheep one afternoon. I was, I thought, on my own — nary a chicken in sight — so was rather startled when, as I went to pick up my now empty water bucket, I turned to find two chickens standing silently behind me, motionless, staring at me unblinkingly, for all the world like the creepy twin girls in The Shining, albeit with less blood and more feathers.
At another point, I sat outside the roadhouse and watched as a small flock of chickens fluttered their way across the road. “Why did the chicken cross the Cariboo Wagon Road?” I asked of the barn cat who was curled up beside me, purring and kneading dough like no one’s business. Answers on a postcard, please, to the editor. And then there was the time the door of the outhouse blew open, with me inside, revealing a number of chickens gathered outside, an episode over which a discreet curtain will be drawn.
Oh, there was plenty of history and storytelling as I entertained (I hope) the visitors to the roadhouse, and that was great fun, but it’s the Poultry Posse that stands out. I have one more stint at Historic Hat Creek before it closes, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the gang once more. I have just one small favour to ask: don’t sneak up on a gal like that.