Cuddling with Popcorn the chicken | Best of Chicago 2020

Cuddling with Popcorn the chicken 

click to enlarge MARISSA OBERLANDER
  • Marissa Oberlander

It's hard to describe the otherworldly (and interspecies) connection that comes with holding a squawking hen, but in a year of no touching or socializing, it was a defining high point. I discovered Nettelhorst Elementary School's chicken coop on a neighborhood walk and dove headfirst into the community of "Chicken Tenders" that care for these nine charismatic ladies (names include Popcorn, Princess Fluffy Butt, Regina George, and Rosie). They were born in March 2019, the coop broke ground a month later, and Lake- view hasn't been the same since.

While volunteering, I've observed lines of individuals and families stopping by, bringing fruits and veggies for the chickens and asking me questions that require a degree in zoology. Is it the novelty of this unexpected urban escape? The chance to care for something besides our narcissistic, doomscrolling selves? Maybe I just need a puppy, but this poultry version of the human-animal connection has brought me mindfulness and joy, from my first cuddle with Popcorn to a friend's uplifting bond with Rosie after her dog's passing. If only more of our communities could offer this unlikely opportunity for personal growth.

These chickens are domesticated but fierce, and with the help of a hilarious and human-run Instagram, unapologetically heartwarming. @NettelhorstCoop moves fluidly from chicken puns to Bernie Sanders memes to a surprisingly poignant anecdote about Congressman John Lewis preaching to his flock of hens as a boy. These intrepid ladies are the only reason you'll find me up early during this pandemic. They'll cross snow and ice for simple pleasures like a celery stalk, and I think we could all use a little more of that fearlessness.

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
March 19
Performing Arts
April 24