The past week has brought some farm exposure into our little world. Sis is vacationing, and while she’s away, the boy and I are venturing slightly north to feed her chickens.
I’ve heard plenty about these chickens: they’re quite dense, they’re never quiet, they flap and run from people when pursued, they hide their eggs in odd and inaccessible places, they’re rather dirty and leave droppings everywhere… But I’ve never been very close to the chickens. I see them, they try to come into the house with me when I visit, they cluster under my car when I’m trying to depart—but my contact has still been somewhat limited. I was not their caretaker.
Now I am. And it’s really cold and snowy outside, and I actually feel a little bit of concern for the plump, stupid birds. I even checked in with brother-in-law via cell phone to make sure they’d be okay in the snow. He assured me they are quite hardy and will simply dig through the snow if necessary, eat, and then cluster together in their little home and be fine. And he’s right, so far at least.
My newfound concern for chickens rose a tad on snowy morning number three, when I released the chickens and realized, after counting heads, that someone was missing. My mind raced. Did a coyote nab an adventurous feathered girl who stayed out too late and didn’t get inside before dark? Did the poor bird simply freeze to death in single digit windchills? Was the clueless foul trapped somewhere, perhaps stuck in some ice?
I went about my business, stomping a flat place in the snow for the birds and spreading feed for them, all the while looking around me for any signs of a recent struggle. Poor, defenseless chicken. My sister and the kids would be saddened by this loss. But wait! Even as the other chickens pecked at the feed, I could still hear what sounded like a muted chicken, somewhere not far away.
The barn! The missing chicken was in the barn! She had probably wandered in while the pony caretaker had been feeding the ponies. And then the ponies were fed, and the chicken had found a comfy place in the hay, and next thing she knew the barn doors were closed for the night, trapping her. I hurried over and slid the door aside, expecting a frantic bird to emerge. But no: she was pretty happy inside, and in no hurry to come out—especially when she saw the swirling snowflakes and felt the frigid wind blowing through the doorway. She flatly refused to exit.
Thus began my Lucille Ball moment: stalking the reluctant chicken so as to grab hold of her and carry her out into the snowstorm. I had to catch her; if I didn’t, I would either have to close her in the barn again, or leave the barn door open—which really was not an option, since you never know what critters might wander into such an inviting, protected space in the midst of a snowstorm. So, I followed the goofy bird, getting close, reaching out only to feel the wind from her wings as she scurried away. She didn’t fly, actually, so I really couldn’t tell you why she was flapping her wings, except perhaps to catch me off guard.
For many minutes, I followed this foolish chicken around the barn’s interior. Thankfully, the other chickens stayed outside to stuff their hungry beaks with food, and no others ventured into the barn; only after the fact did I think of that risk, and they could have easily wandered in, since I left the door gaping open behind me… but they didn’t. The ponies, however, were quite entertained; they had both come into the barn and were standing in their stables to maximize their view of our ridiculous performance. There we were, me creeping up to the chicken, the chicken sensing the threat and hurrying just out of reach, or behind a big bale, or under the steps to the loft…and then a slightly different reenactment of the same scene, again. And again.
Finally, I quickened my pace a bit and lunged forward, grabbing the bird and managing, after some readjustments, to gently pin her wings against her sides as I held her. She accepted her fate without too much fight, and we stepped out into the bitter air. I set the chicken down, closed the barn door, counted heads one last time, and got the heck out of there. As I drove away, I glanced back; there they all were, heads bobbing slowly and comically, stepping with delicate, uncertain steps through the drifting snow. The barn-dweller was safely among them.
This morning was my last day of chicken duty. I won’t weep now that it’s over, but I did enjoy it in a strange, simple-minded way.
A: To go inside the barn, of course.