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Story by Kade Garner
Photo by Kade Garner
A young man with light brown hair and broad shoulders makes his way over to the enclosure, opens the door and leans out of his wheelchair to snatch the red hen flapping its wings.
The hen looks like a red mother hen that can be found in a number of children’s books. Nothing about its appearance is particularly frightening, but anyone who has ever been around poultry knows that looks can often be deceiving.
Country life isn’t for everyone, but Grant Winters is proof that country life can be for anyone who chooses it.
“I can’t ride my dirt bike anymore,” Winters said through a smile that gave a peek into his sarcastic sense of humor. Winters is 20 years old and grew up in the small town of St. Johns, Arizona. Weeks before graduating high school, he got in a dirt bike accident that caused swelling in his spinal cord and lead to paralysis.
Winters and his family live in a home perched on a hill overlooking their small community. The house was made accessible for Winters, but the surrounding area was made accessible by him. As the sun goes down, the sky is filled with pastel pinks, purples and blues, while the surrounding hillside seems to glow with shades of green and red from the clay earth—a Bob Ross painting right outside his window.
Before his accident, Winters raised chickens. It’s a demanding physical job; building and maintaining pens, racing after the occasional runaway, bending down to pick up large bags of feed and jumping out of the way of the occasional angry goose are just some of the daily tasks.
The accident hasn’t changed that. Unlike most people in the area, Winters doesn’t just raise chickens for their eggs, but also for their plumage. Behind his house are birds of all feathers: run-of-the-mill farm hens that lay eggs, geese, a handful of guinea hens, a pair of peacocks and even some show chickens.
The show chickens stick out of the crowd with their smaller bodies and dark, glossy feathers. They are bred solely to be admired. The bantam chickens are pitch black with the exception of some fire-red feathers that peek out like flames clinging onto coals, giving the birds a beautifully striking variation in their color.
For Winters, there was no way he’d give up taking care of the birds.
“I knew my family was always going to have them, so I learned how to take care of them. Now, I just get a little more help from my siblings,” he said.
Winters spends a fair amount of time looking after the different birds. A dirt trail cuts through saltgrass and wildflowers from the house to the coops, a product of many trips to and from the pens.
“It took us a couple days. We were pretty motivated,” Winters said as he looked at the enormous two-story pen he and his younger brothers built for the guinea hens just a few weeks ago.
Winters is the oldest sibling teaching the younger ones how to take care of the different birds. They often move the hose from pen to pen, watering the chickens, which is one of the few tasks Winter has trouble doing. That sibling teamwork led to their first peacock.
A neighbor’s peacock got loose, and the neighbor went on social media and said whoever wanted it just needed to catch it.
“So, we went for it,” Winters said.
After rolling through fields, hopping over fences and chasing a bird that was a master of escape, the boys caught the peacock. One of Winters’ brothers said that of all the birds they have, the peacock is now his favorite.
Winters’ family has adapted to using a wheelchair in a rural community. He says everything that needs to be accessible is, and anything that isn’t...well, he and his family find a way to make it work. But in the next few months, he plans to leave the nest, move out on his own, and go back to school. He is thinking about studying engineering. It will be a perfect fit as he is already a certified welder.
The country life isn’t for everyone. But for Grant Winters, it’s the best life there is.
Kade Garner is a Northern-Arizona native. When he is not hooked up to an IV filled with diet soda, he is probably filming an event, taking pictures of his dog, or binge watching a new series. He’s an okay writer.
Read more by Kade Garner.