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"Spring Cleaning The Chicken Coop, Mindfully"

The day comes around every year when the ice and mud are gone, and it's time to clean out the chicken coop. It's not a big chicken coop, and I don't have a lot of chickens. But it's been a long winter and the chickens have been mostly indoors since November, eating and pooping. To keep down the mess I've been adding hay periodically, so that now there is about a foot of caked-down hay, manure, food, and general chicken dust.

I put on my gloves and carry the garden fork and a big plastic tub into the coop. I dig the fork into the bedding and pry up a big chunk of wet litter, half of which falls off on the way to the tub. "I'll never be able to do this," I tell myself as my arms and back begin to ache.

I have CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), so with every exertion comes the thought of future pay-back. "I won't be able to get out of bed tomorrow," I think, lifting another forkful. "It didn't seem this hard last year. That's because I'm getting older, losing strength. How long am I going to be able to keep this up?"

In years past, I rushed impatiently through this coop cleaning. After all, there was a garden to be planted, cold-season crops to be got in before the weather turned hot. That was what I was focused on, the future garden, not the tedious, messy task of picking up and composting manure that wouldn't be ready until fall.

Now, after a few more forkfuls, I notice that I am sweating--the first real sweat of the season--just as a chickadee's spring song rings out from the still-bare trees. I become aware that yet again I am worrying about tomorrow's relapse, and the aging process, and the fate of my chickens when I am old. And I determine to put all that aside and deal with each forkful of manure as if it were the only one. Dig, lift, pant, dump into the tub. Dig, lift, pant, dump into the tub.

When the tub is full, I carry it down the steps and around the corner, and empty it into the compost big. Then I dig, lift, pant and dump all over again.

Coop cleaning is a dusty business. I feel the dust collecting on my skin, cloud my glasses, tickle my nose. There is grit on my teeth. I dig, lift, dump, and carry the tub some more. Somehow my muscles are holding up, and I can see the coop's wooden floor.

Then the chickens are scratching in their new, clean bed of hay and I am on my way to the shower. I try to pay attention to the blessing of hot water rinsing off the chicken dust, making everything clean and new.