Project Chickens before the Eggs – Lesson 82 – Good Egg Interview with Sy Montgomery

Shh, if you are very quiet and listen carefully you will hear the sound of me doing the happy dance up here in New Hampshire.

We have some great writers in NH and one of them is a woman after my own heart. Sy Montgomery writes the most incredible books about animals. She’s written about Great Apes, Tigers, Pink Dolphins, Bears, Pigs, and – wait for it- birds, including CHICKENS!

If you’ve spent any time, any time at all listening to public radio then you’ve heard about Sy and her books. And if you have a child in the public school system, then you know that The Good, Good Pig is often listed as required summer reading.

The Good, Good, Pig is about life with her pig: Christopher Hogwood and is nothing short of terrific (in fact someone saw my copy at a Soccer game this weekend and told me what a wonderful book it was). Sy knows how inviting an animal to share your life changes absolutely everything. What you learn from the relationship is so much more than just the care and feeding of a pet.

She’s also a heck of a storyteller.

When I won a gift certificate to The Toadstool Bookstore for my chicken poem, it was a no brainer to spend it on Sy’s new book: birdology -described as adventures with a pack of hens, a peck of pigeons, cantankerous crows, fierce falcons, hip hop parrots, baby hummingbirds, and one murderously big living dinosaur.

As I was reading in her book about raising baby chicks in her office, about the unsightly blotches staining her clothing and about her relationship with her egg-laying ladies, I knew that I had met a soul sister. Anyone who tries to understand chicken language is someone I would want to invite into my home for a good dinner and talk.

I reached out to Sy to see if she was interested in having one of our chickens as her namesake. In typical good egg fashion she replied that nothing would please her more than having one of our flock named after her.

Sy thanked me for the honor. Oh Sy, the pleasure is all mine. Without further ado, here is our newest named literary chick: Sy-Montgomery

Our newest literary chick - Sy-Montgomery

Good Egg Interview with Sy Montgomery

What is the best advice an older relative or family member gave you?

Don’t ever show fear. (Advice from my father, a general in the US Army and a survivor of the Bataan Death March.)

If you were given one wish to use anyway you wanted, what would you wish for?

For the healing of our polluted and overpopulated planet.

If you were allowed the use of a large billboard over a well traveled road, what would you put on the billboard?

Pay attention!

What’s the passion that drives you to get up every morning?

Sally, our border collie, who wants to go for a walk.

What is your ideal dinner? What would you eat and with whom would you share it?

A big head of organic cauliflower, grown by my dear friend Gretchen at her farm in Surry, NH. I wish I could share it–particularly the stalk and leaves–with my good good pig, Christopher Hogwood. But alas, he died in his sleep of old age at 14. I miss him every day, especially when perfectly tasty vegetable peelings have to go to the compost pile. But at least the chickens will find it.

Do you have any favorite chicken stories or memories?

When our first flock of chickens (“The Ladies”) came to live with us, I wondered whether they’d be able to understand that they lived HERE now, and where our land began and ended. But they did. How they did this is a mystery that still amazes me today.

At first, the chicks liked to stay near the coop. But as they grew, they took to following me everywhere, first cheeping like the tinkling of little bells, later clucking in animated adult discussion. If I were hanging out the laundry, they would check what was in the laundry basket. If I were weeding a flower bed, they would join me, raking the soil with their strong, scaly feet, then stepping backwards to see what was revealed. (Whenever I worked with soil, I suspect they assumed I was digging for worms.) When my husband, Howard, and I would eat at the picnic table under the big silver maple, The Ladies would accompany us. When my father-in-law came to help my husband build a pen for Christopher Hogwood, then still a piglet, The Ladies milled underfoot to supervise every move. The hens were clearly interested in the project, pecking at the shiny nails, standing tall to better observe the use of tools, clucking all the while a running commentary. Before this experience, Howard’s dad would be the first to say that he didn’t think chickens were that smart. But they changed his mind. After a few hours I noticed he began to address them. Picking up a hammer they were examining, he might say, directly and respectfully, “Pardon me, Ladies”—as if he were speaking to my mother-in-law and me when we got in the way.

But when their human friends were inside, and this was much of the time, The Ladies would explore on their own. A chicken can move as fast as nine miles an hour, which can take you pretty far, and ours were free to go anywhere they liked. But ours intuited our property lines, and confined their travels to its boundaries. They never crossed the street. They never hopped across the low stone wall separating our land from that of our closest neighbor. That came later—and it was not the result of any physical change in the landscape, but the outcome of a change in social relationships among their human friends.

When the Ladies first moved in with us, Larry Thompson lived next door with his Airedale, Cooper, both of whom we liked and visited. When he moved out, the house sat vacant for a time. Still the hens wouldn’t venture over the low wall. Finally Lilla Cabot and her two blonde, blue-eyed girls, Jane, seven, and Kate, ten, moved in. Understandably enchanted with our friendly black and white spotted pig, the girls visited the barn regularly, bringing treats (often their school lunch), petting him, and escorting him on daily rooting excursions. Next the girls were helping me gather The Ladies’ eggs and tossing the Frisbee for Tess, the border collie. Soon we were together baking cookies, reading animal stories and visiting back and forth daily. That’s when The Ladies started hopping over the stone wall. Somehow, they realized, before we humans did, that our two families had become one unit.

Thanks for being such a good egg, Sy!

About Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery

To research books, films and articles, Sy Montgomery has been chased by an angry silverback gorilla in Zaire and bitten by a vampire bat in Costa Rica, worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba and handled a wild tarantula in French Guiana. She has been deftly undressed by an orangutan in Borneo, hunted by a tiger in India, and swum with piranhas, electric eels and dolphins in the Amazon. She has searched the Altai Mountains of Mongolia’s Gobi for snow leopards and hiked into the trackless cloud forest of Papua New Guinea to radiocollar tree kangaroos.

For her newest book, BIRDOLOGY, Sy bashed through the Australian rainforest to meet up with the most dangerous bird in the world, the 150-pound cassowary. She took years of falconry lessons; worked with a wildlife rehabilitator to raise and release orphaned baby hummingbirds; and shares 20 years of living with affectionate and individualistic hens. BIRDOLOGY is an exploration of the essence of birds through adventures with seven species.

A new children’s book, KAKAPO RESCUE, also appears this spring, recounting the dramatic and often heart-wrenching efforts to save the world’s strangest parrot, a naturally tame, flightless, 10-pound bird who looks rather like a monster parakeet. Photographed by Nic Bishop, KAKAPO RESCUE joins the four other titles the team has contributed to the Scientists in the Field series of nonfiction books that they founded for Houghton Mifflin.

Sy’s 15 books for both adults and children have garnered many honors. THE GOOD GOOD PIG, her memoir of life with her pig, Christopher Hogwood, is an international bestseller. She is the winner of the 2009 New England Independent Booksellers Association Nonfiction Award, the 2010 Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award, the Henry Bergh Award for Nonfiction (given by the ASPCA for Humane Education) and dozens of other honors. Her work with the man-eating tigers, the subject of her book SPELL OF THE TIGER, was made into in a National Geographic television documentary she scripted and narrated. Also for National Geographic TV she developed and scripted MOTHER BEAR MAN, about her friend, Ben Kilham, who raises and releases orphaned bear cubs, which won a Chris award.


Filed under New Hampshire, Personal, Project Chickens before the Eggs, The Chicken Challenge, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Project Chickens before the Eggs – Lesson 82 – Good Egg Interview with Sy Montgomery

  1. Lauren

    Thanks for a wonderful interview. Sy Montgomery is truly a “good egg”.

  2. Pingback: Authors kids can’t get enough of – Good Egg Chicken naming project update « Simple Thrift – creative living on less

  3. Pingback: Lesson 296 – Little Sy-Montgomery is all grown up « Lessons Learned from the Flock

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