Coming back from dinner with friends, I went straight to the chicken house to shut the hens in for the night. As I changed from my dressy clogs (in Vermont this is not an oxymoron) into my barn clogs, my heart was full of dread.
This is a dangerous season for chickens. Foxes, raccoons, coyotes, hawks and fisher cats are all looking for chicken dinners to take home to their growing families . And a roosterless flock such as mine is especially vulnerable (I have never lost a chicken during the times that I've had a rooster).
All day long the red-tailed hawks had been wheeling overhead, giving their mating whistles. I noticed that the hens were not tempted by the emerald expanse of grass inside the moveable fence, but were sticking close to their house. In the afternoon, I went to give them a spotty apple and they came running--all but one of the New Hampshire Reds. I called and called, squatted and peered under the shed, looked for feathers on the grass...nothing.
I gathered the eggs and went into the house. I knew that if the missing hen didn't come to roost at sundown, I'd never see her again. If she hadn't been eaten during the day, there was no way she would survive a night in the woods.
Imagine my delight, then, when I went to shut the hen house door after dinner and there she was, on the roost with her sisters. I stood at the door for a moment while Biblical parables of lost lambs returned to the fold ran through my mind and then, at the edge of the woods, a thrush began to sing. It was answered by one farther in, then another. The three of them went on and on, piping their otherworldly tunes as the light dimmed, and I thought "In all the world, this is the place I'd rather be, at the threshold of the shed, with the hens safe inside, and thrushes singing in the woods."
On the way back to the house I saw that the porcupine has been chewing on our garage post through the hardware mesh that my husband nailed up.