Think of Annapolis and you see Naval Academy midshipmen in their crisp whites, the spires of ancient churches and the masts of sailing yachts. The glittering dome of the state capitol and the rows of historic houses painted in lipstick colors.
It is my town, and even I see it that way.
I don't, however, see chickens.
I will, though.
More than 50 people attended a meeting at the Annapolis Library to learn more about a new city ordinance that will allow them to keep as many as five laying hens on their property, and some of them were my neighbors. (And I had always been embarrassed about my clothesline.)
Jeanna Beard was there from the city to explain the permit process. (The paperwork would choke a horse, to keep the barnyard theme going here.) Key element: You must get the written permission of your neighbors first.
Elizabeth Elliott, who teaches a course at Anne Arundel Community College on raising chickens and has 50 of her own, told the group that they could get their new chickens off of Craigslist. Or do the right thing and adopt chickens from a chicken rescue society.
I am not making this up.
Chickens are funny and fun, she said: "There is nothing I like better than to be out in my garden with my chickens."
The new ordinance was passed this spring after a bruising set of hearings before the Annapolis City Council and a final vote that didn't come until after midnight.
"I think the whole thing is ridiculous," said Alderman Fred Paone, who represents me. "We have a major fiscal crisis on our hands and we are worried about chickens?"
But Mayor Josh Cohen, who introduced the legislation at the urging of citizens, is proud of his city.
"This is about embracing green and sustainability, and that's positive, and that's what Annapolis is about."
He conceded that some on the council, who remember decades ago when chickens were common in the city, "think chickens are dirty and noisy and smelly. They see this as a huge step backward. I see it totally differently."
There was plenty of information for future chicken owners at the library meeting. For example: If you order baby chicks through the mail — which presents its own problems, I imagine — make sure they are "sexed" (which is not what teens are doing on their cellphones). You want to make sure you are buying future hens and not roosters, which are not permitted.
I learned that chickens love yogurt and oatmeal. And mice.
Mary Sells, known as "the chicken wrangler" at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, told listeners that you might have to put artificial eggs in the nest to show the young hens what it is there for.
You can train chickens to come when you call, she said, which is helpful if you are planning to take them on little walks in your vegetable garden to eat the pests. (Don't leave them in the garden too long or they will go after the vegetables, too.)
And apparently chickens have more feet and leg problems than a ballerina. And they need plenty of water.
State veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus told the group to register their hens with the state — which sounds a bit ominous — and start thinking now about what you will do if your chicken gets sick.
Most chicken vets are busy with the 327 million chickens on the Delmarva Peninsula, he said. But if you find one available to treat your chicken, you are not going to like the bill.
"The economics are not in the chicken's favor," he said.
(Helpful hint: You can actually compost a dead chicken in a compost pile of coop shavings and chicken poop, and in a couple of weeks you won't even be able to find its bones. Let the compost "cool" and then put it on your tomatoes. Otherwise, double bag the chicken and put it out with the trash.)
Chickens and humans only share eight diseases, and rabies isn't one of them. Chickens won't give your pets or your children rabies. Chickens do get lice, however.
You can count on about 20 dozen eggs a year from each hen, I learned. You can't sell the eggs or give them to food banks or shelters, but you can give them to your friends and to the neighbors who signed off on your permit application.
Laying hens only. No broilers. You can't roast your chicken for Sunday dinner, which is good news, because people often give them names.
Bottom line: Chickens are a lot more work than you think. And you will have to train someone to care of them while you are on vacation, which is much harder than watering your plants.
We have a saying in my town of Annapolis: Don't buy a boat. Just make friends with someone who owns a boat.
I am thinking that applies to chickens, too.
Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is email@example.com.
In last Monday's column about the commencement season, I wrote that Tony Blair was heckled at Colby College. Officials at the school said the heckling came from protesters who were not students. Also, Mary Schmich first wrote "Wear Sunscreen" as a column. She did not deliver it as a commencement address, as my column implied. Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts