Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Prodigal Hen

In the context of my darn near idyllic existence in this blessed place, Thursday was a bad day. 

It was the day after the great chicken house cleanout and, not surprisingly, the day when my CFS took its revenge.  Who did I think I was, disrespecting the nasty entity that inhabits my protoplasm by making a strenuous muscular effort for two and a half hours straight? 

The worst part was having to send an e-mail to my book group telling them I wouldn't be attending their meeting that night.  I often have to cancel things at the last minute, and I hate to do it.  I feel bad for the hostess, who's been carefully counting plates and forks and chicken legs.  I feel bad for the fun I'll be missing.  And I'm haunted by the fear that if I keep not showing up for stuff people will forget me and I'll end up alone and pathetic.

As if all this weren't tragic enough, when I went to the chicken house to lock the hens in for the night I saw that there were only eight of them.  One of the New Hampshire Reds--a young, rusty-red beauty, was missing.  Earlier that afternoon several hens had gotten out of their yard and I'd chased them back in, but I hadn't done a head count.  And now one of them was out there alone in the dark, within easy reach of the coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, raccoons and porcupines that haunt our woods.

There is nothing more helpless than a chicken in the dark.  After the sun goes down, you can pluck chickens off their roosts as if they were ripe peaches.  No hen that has spent the night outside the shed has ever lived to tell the tale. 

After a bad CFS day, I often put myself to sleep by remembering all the good things that nevertheless have happened in the last twelve hours.  I think grateful thoughts for zucchini bread at breakfast, a supportive spouse at noon, Wolfie and Bisou by the fire in the evening...The list is usually surprisingly long, and works much better than chamomile.  But on Thursday night, I couldn't find a single grateful angle to the vanished hen episode.

The next morning I went out to give breakfast to the survivors.  They looked rather crestfallen, and not just because the temperature was in the teens.  Chickens are emotional beings, and I was sure that they were missing their sister.

But when I looked out towards the woods there she was, the lost New Hampshire Red, trotting alongside the fence, trying desperately to get back into the yard.  I don't know what the carnivores in the woods had been thinking, letting such a plump young morsel get away.  All I can figure is that it was too cold to hunt.

When you have just nine chickens and one of them goes missing, you feel it deeply.  But when she is returned to you unharmed, you know without a doubt that the universe is smiling upon you.


  1. My neighbor's urban hens weren't so fortunate. About six months ago her back-yard pen was invaded by a possum, she thinks, and all killed. Her response has been to build a hen fortress, using skilled labor from a nearby village, and 6 new, and still young hens are now enjoying life in her backyard.

    1. Did the possum kill the hens in broad daylight? Or did it get into the coop at night somehow? Anyway, I'm glad your neighbor persevered.

    2. At night I think. She and her children love the chickens, especially the cute new ones.

  2. I am glad that your chicken made it through the night safely. It must have been a bit scary for her. I bet you were a welcome sight.

  3. We at book group missed you. The New Hampshire Red missed you.

  4. yay for the intrepid and adventurous chicken, who found her way home again! she has tales to tell.

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  6. I'm late replying, but wanted to add my happiness for your lost and found fowl.