Saturday, April 9, 2011

As The Hen Turns, Episode 804,566

We have two chickens left from our first batch seven years ago, a New Hampshire Red named Prudence and a white and gold Auracana called Marisol. Marisol is the only one who has been on our farm that whole time, because Prudence was part of the fifteen reds I raised for my friend Maggie, who wanted new chickens that year but her daughter was getting married that spring, so having a roomful of dusty peeps in the house was out of the question. So I raised the reds the first few weeks and handed them off to Maggie after the wedding, and a few days later, my own flock of 10 or 12 assorted birds was attacked first by an opposum and a few days later by a roving dog. There were only 2 survivors, Marisol and one of the reds I had kept, whose leg the dog had broken. I knew I should wring her neck and be done with it, but I couldn’t bear to, and miraculously by the following week she was walking again. Maggie gave me back two red chicks to console me, so we had Prudence, Constance, Capability the miracle bird and Marisol. Over the years Capability died and Constance was carried off by the wildlife but Prudence and Marisol have endured. Marisol is very friendly and curious and likes to come into the kitchen and hang out with the human flock, so she became everyone’s favorite chicken. She even has fans in other states.

All the chickens except Marisol had started going out of the barn again now that it is kinda sorta grudgingly spring. Yesterday was pretty nice out, so I went and caught Marisol where she was hanging out in a nest box in the Hen Room, no doubt eating eggs, and I put her out with the other birds. She went straight back indoors. I went and got her and carried her halfway down the barnyard. She pecked around a bit on the ground; as soon as I started for the house, she sprinted for the barn door. I rolled my eyes and decided to leave her to it. As I went through the barnyard gate, she disappeared around the corner of the barn.

But at bedtime when I was locking up, glancing over the roosting hens as always, there was no Marisol. I looked again, harder. No hen. Marisol was gone. Somehow in the three feet between the corner of the barn and the barn door, something had swooped down and nabbed her, and I didn’t even hear it happening. This is what you get, I told myself, for meddling with Nature. You don’t know how things are, you don’t know what’s going on, you think you understand everything and know best but you don’t, and now, because of your arrogance, everyone’s favorite chicken, the venerable Marisol, is dead. In spite of this cheerful assessment, that little part inside me that refuses to ever see reason was crossing its fingers that she might come back, because there was no corpse and no explosion of feathers on the ground.

This morning when I went into the Hen Room, Marisol emerged laboriously from inside the wall where she had hidden all night. Why was she in the wall? I have no idea. She is not broody. She went out into the barnyard today with the rest of the chickens, as though winter had never happened and this is just what we do every day all year, and we never think of a quick run back to the barn to hide in the darkness and eat eggs. Maybe she has chicken senility. In any event, I am glad that her blood is not on my hands.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Always Winter & Never Christmas

I’m just saying.

REWARD: Information leading to the safe return of our lion will be met with boundless gratitude and large recompense from a populace on the verge of mass immolation.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Nature Slobbery In Tooth and Claw

Friday morning I was leaving to take my son to school when we saw the neighbor’s year-old Lab sprinting around the yard in suspicious glee. I yelled at him to get home, and he dropped his parcel and ran. The parcel had a strange tail, so I went to check it out, thinking it might be a rat, which we never see around here. In fact, it was a slobbery but perfectly furred, warm, breathing gray squirrel so young its eyes were not even open yet. Since we had to leave for school, I took the squirrel to the neighbors’, where their visiting daughter accepted him. By the time I got back from the drive to school, she had found another baby lying in the snow, and had deposited both, securely swaddled in a floppy hat and a towel, at the foot of the ash tree where she had most recently seen some adult squirrels. We supposed that the parents had been moving the nest, had been surprised by the overenthused Labrador, and had dropped the kits and run. The parents were nowhere to be seen, having evidently gone down for their morning nap with whatever was left of their family. We have all had a lot of experience with lost baby wildlife, and therefore we were full of gloom.

At lunchtime my daughter and I went up to town to meet my husband. Phyllida was full of concern about the squirrels, who were still, in spite of being obsessively checked on every fifteen minutes all morning, in the hat under the tree. She wanted to collect them after lunch, buy some dog-milk-replacer, and nurse them to adulthood. I saw a number of problems with this plan, starting with the fact that Phyllida was going to her father’s house for four days—leaving me holding the bag of squirrel infants—and ending with the foreseen presence in my office of two adolescent squirrels with no sense of how to be a squirrel out in the world. Despair reigned.

When we got back from lunch we had a few minutes to stoke the fire and let the dogs out before we had to leave to collect my son from school, so I thought I would pop up the driveway and check the hat once again. Midway there, however, I saw a white rag hanging in the bush above the hat and towel. I saw a squirrel hanging upside down on the tree trunk, watching me. I went back inside.

When we left, we drove slowly past the tree. The rag was still there. The towel was flopped on the ground as before. The squirrel came down the trunk again, looked into the towel, hopped around the base of the tree a bit, evidently checking for more lost babies, then went up the trunk and disappeared into a knothole twenty feet up. We were too consumed with anxiety to leave without knowing: I snuck over, surreptitiously watching the knothole all the while, flicked back the towel's edge and beheld the floppy hat, perfectly empty. Joy erupted, and we departed singing.

Many thanks to audreyjm529 at Flickr for the loan of her image.