IMG_1794You might think chickens are creatures that go around pecking at the ground, looking for bugs and now and again laying an egg, as though it were a surprise to her and to you. They fluff their feathers, squawk for unknown reasons, jump at shadows that appear out of nowhere and run screaming with indignation if you happen to turn on the hose to water the lavender while they are busy scratching up a nest beneath the fragrant plant. Listen, you can be standing near one as though you were made out of stone, not a muscle moving, and all of a sudden you wiggle your baby finger and Miss Hen will stretch her neck, eyes popping out, wings flapping and screech like a woman who just stepped on a snake. You feel sorry for the chicken, you really do. On the other hand, if you don’t know any better, you might look down on her with a touch of superiority. I used to, before I knew how sophisticated and complex they really are. You won’t find them getting out rose painted teacups for mid-morning snack, but they definitely know who they are.

One spring, the hens had been sitting on their nests, keeping their bundle of eggs warm and safe, hoping to hatch baby chicks from them. Here, I must reveal a bit of negativity. I don’t consider it gossip, it’s just that in the animal kingdom, things are the way they are, and you just have to accept it. So, some of the hens get tired of staying in the coop, sitting, day after day, when outside the others are basking in the warming sun, smelling the new green shoots on trees and plants, running here and there, remembering this grassy copse {a small area where tall grasses and bushy things grow} that sweet hill where the daffodils bloom, and the return of fat, juicy bugs, oh my, they love them so! Well, you get the picture. We would be false to say we don’t understand how they could leave their nest, when after all; those eggs are potentially their very own children! But, the way of it is, they do leave their nests, frolicking in the lazy afternoon, until when they return, the poor eggs are cold and forgotten. At this point some of the hens will even push them out of the nest and try again. To me, that shows remorse and the gumption to start anew. Those are fine qualities to have in the humans, let alone in chickens.

Now, I’m coming to the meat of my story, oh, excuse me, I mean the potatoes of my story. I have become more sensitive in my language when I’m around chickens. Anyway, the big red hen, who was quite proud of her beautiful physique, fully round, with a delicate neck, and strong yellow legs, was the movie queen of the yard. The other hens made way for her, the rooster tried to herd her off on his own, just he and she. I personally thought he knew he looked better when she was on his arm, well, wing. She wasn’t one to be herded, though. She did what movie queens do, bask in the adoration of others.

Now, there was another hen, much smaller, kind of scraggly, black in color, skinny legs, I’m trying to say in a nice way, she wasn’t much to look at. But this hen will remind me to my dying day, what courage it takes to achieve one’s hearts desire.

She was a hen that never left her nest. She sat, oblivious to the sun, the bugs, the flowers. I checked on her everyday to see if one of those little buggers was pecking though his shell. But the days turned to weeks and still nothing. Miss Movie Queen sat here and there, pushed some eggs out, and laid more. I thought I saw her filing her nails while sitting a bit impatiently, but it was only a shadow. Finally, one day I stepped into the chicken house and I heard a little peep. I jumped for joy! A new little life made it’s way to us. I left the two hens sitting and hatching, not wanting to disrupt the flow. Later in the afternoon I checked on them again; more little yellow chicks had pecked their way to the light.

While I was watching and reveling in the miracle of life, it occurred to me that the whole show was going on in Miss Movie Star’s nest. The little black hen was sitting but not hatching. Oh, the look on little hen’s face! I caught my breathe at the panic in her eyes. She kept turning to see another little head pop out from under Red’s glossy feathers. Each time it happened she would hunker down, eyes closed, wings pressing into her sides, willing, coaxing, maybe praying for life to move beneath her.

I couldn’t stand it any longer so I left, the joy having turned to angst for the black hen.

The next day I stepped into the coop and there as proud as a queen, sat Miss Movie Star, fluffed up, beak in the air, with at least ten baby chicks peeping under her big skirts. Little Black Hen was forlorn. Nothing moved under her little body. She was still, her head hanging, but yet she sat.

The next week I saw Miss Movie Star with her brood of chicks, all perfect and beautiful, toddling behind her. It was an event throughout the yard. All the hens swarmed around checking each baby and giving chortles and squawks of approval. Little Black Hen stood apart. She kept to the corners of the fenced yard or stood underneath the edge of a bale of hay. She watched the chicks with a broken heart.

Soon the chicks and their mother were able to go out of the fenced area for the day, scratching and pecking for grubs and such.

One day, I happened to be sitting under a tree where the chickens were playing when I witnessed a strange occurrence. Mother Hen and chicks were trotting around as usual, the chicks in a line behind mother when Little Black Hen quietly walked up to the end of the line of chicks. She pretended to be pecking and scratching but in fact she was busy fussing with the last chick. She would touch it with the tip of her feathered wing, peck at the ground as she walked around the chick, making sure she was getting enough to eat. I even thought she was singing her a little song; noises and chirps that sounded like Rock-a Bye-Baby! That little black hen was a natural born mother.

Day after day, I saw her at the end of the line of chicks, not being noticed by the proud mother, but nevertheless, caring for the sweet chick. Black Hen was also blossoming into a happy and purposeful hen. She had confidence and was rounding out a little, looking almost pretty.

Then I saw it happen. She actually stole the little yellow chick. She put her wing over her and led her off. The funny part was the chick left with the hen. She left her whole family of siblings and her very own mother to be raised by this caretaker, this mother want to be, this dear, crazy hen who found a way to have a family of her own. I’m not saying it was the right thing to do, but Miss Movie Star never missed the chick and really, she did have more than her share.

To this day the Little Black Hen and her stolen baby have never been apart. They sleep together, they peck together, and discuss things on their daily trips around the yard. Her chick grew up to be a beautiful white hen, bigger than her mother but you always knew she was the daughter as Little Black Hen fussed over her like a mother does.



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