Some years it’s more obscured by trees and weeds than others, that rock that is painted with the words “Chicken Farmer I Still Love You” on Route 103 in the town of Newbury, New Hampshire. This year we were passing by too quickly to stop but I trained my eyes for the rocky canvas even as we zipped passed. You may have seen the rock turned Valentine, if you’ve ever gone to Lake Sunapee, Mount Sunapee, or that wonderful collection of unique talents at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Fair.
For years I’d assumed a girl loved a chicken farmer man and declared her love. Then I learned while reading an article or one of the many reprints of an article that I was a sexist….the chicken farmer of the story was actually a 16 year old girl, and the message was written by a boy way back in the 70’s. That message exists today as a bold declaration of love for the world to guess about and project about.
There’s a lot to see on the road to Sunapee, picturesque New England buildings, covered bridges, lakes and shops, hills and valleys, and lots of wilderness. And I’ve anticipated the drive for the last twenty years after first being on the team that marketed the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (LNHC) when I worked for the Stal-McLane Advertising in Manchester, NH.
My home today is enhanced by a multitude of treasured pieces from some of the League’s best artisans and artists, many of whom were inspired by the natural beauty of the area. And then there’s this … graffiti. It is vandalism after all to disrupt the natural beauty with a splattered on message in some never dulling paint. It is a billboard of sorts, in a state where billboards are banned in most areas. It is akin to the scarring of innocent trees with heart encased initials. I cannot condone it. I should not condone it.
But this one message means love to me, a young love that cannot be contained on notepaper, it cannot be conveyed in a phone call. It is bigger than modern technology. It needs to be printed in large letters and shared with the world on a giant slab of granite.
And it was. And it is, despite the complaint to the DOT that resulted in the painting over of the message after its many year stint. My mind envisions the complainer as someone who forgot what big crazy love feels like, someone rebuffed and evermore too protective of him/herself to ever feel love again, maybe a newcomer to the area who wanted to keep his new home in an image he’d created for himself rather than accept it for what it is. Or maybe it was an embarrassed middle aged man, who long moved on from a high school crush and wanted to at last erase the evidence of his impetuous youth.
The 1997 Yankee Magazine article and the 2012 New Hampshire Magazine reprint identified the girl for whom the message was intended, reported that nothing ever came of the pronouncement. But I doubt that. A spurned boy with obvious access to a can of spray paint would have most definitely removed the cause of his embarrassment, or the girl would have if it embarrassed her. But you know what, it doesn’t matter; the people involved don’t matter. What matters is that someone felt a love strong enough to proclaim to the public. The guy took the shot.
Shortly after the offending letters were removed, someone secretly repainted the message and the Town of Newbury understood its power. It had became so iconic as to be part of the community’s culture. The townspeople fought back and signed “A Petition for the Status Quo”. The DOT approved and The Chicken Rock’s message is protected forever.
And I, I can go on imagining the story behind the words, and remembering the big loves I’ve felt and was brave enough to act upon.
This year the universe seemed to conspire in favor of Chicken Farmer love and this blog post. A couple of weeks prior I made friends with and held my first chicken courtesy of Rogers Spring Hill Farm. And then, immediately after reading the rock this year, I was magically drawn to LNHC Fair booth #601. That’s where Jennifer Reilly Diggs’ This Bird’s Absurd hen house presented life sized and bigger fancifully crafted faux fur chickens. I couldn’t decide among the several I loved and the roosters, and I chuckled thinking if I started my own faux hen house, I’d want to quickly expand the flock. Then I could be the star in my own imaginary chicken farmer love story….
And then this happened – After I finished writing this post, I searched Facebook for the chicken crafter, Jennifer Reilly Diggs, to send her the link, and oddly another person I am friends with on FB showed up, a man I learned was her brother. Coincidentally, he and I had gone to school together over 100 miles away in Lynnfield, MA. Around the same time the Chicken Farmer’s guy wrote his message, her brother and I briefly dabbled in the possibility of a junior high crush at a church dance. We were just a couple years younger than the chicken farmer and never made it even close to the paint-a-message-on-public-property stage. But at that tender age, I think I would have found it pretty embarrassing, then again just about everything was pretty embarrassing at that age. Side note – we both have moved on successfully and happily, too. Fast forward to the twenty-teens, today painting a big message like that near a girl’s house would be called stalking as well as destruction of property, so don’t try this at home.
But this needs to be said. If I see someone else defacing a big swath of rock, I’d probably ask them to stop or rat them out, too, because the bad thing about a good thing is all the copycats who can in a matter of a few short years turn a natural setting into a mess of private messages with too few trees and unadorned rocks between. Call me a pragmatic romantic.
Special Thanks to Jennifer Reilly Diggs for giving me permission to use her photos.
Sources: http://www.nhmagazine.com/February-2012/NH-Love-Stories-Chicken-Farmer-Rock/. Originally appeared in the February 1998 issue of Yankee Magazine as “The Best Love Story of 1997.” Also ran in “Chicken Soup for the Lover’s Soul” and in the Concord Monitor.