February 8, 2007 

That’s what I was doing yesterday afternoon. Playing nursery-maid to my biddies, on a blanket in the backyard with my tea on a tray. Fortunately my work was of a portable variety, and thus I sat, surrounded with pencils and notebooks and papers that kept rolling over the lawn on the light gusts of wind, while the girls wandered up with inquisitively cocked heads from time to time to see if I just might have something tasty for them to sample.

And why, you might ask, was I engaged in so singular an occupation?

It had very much to do with the fact that Fort Poulet has been in lockdown since last week, when an attack by a hawk took the life of my most beautiful hen. (And if you don’t think a hen is beautiful, then all I can say is that you’ve never taken the time to look at one. ;)) I truly grieved over her. It was a small tragedy in our domestic kingdom, and has caused us to re-think our policies of chicken-raising. For a week we kept them confined to their house and their covered run. And for as many days they were so traumatized by the incident that they barely made a peep of protest, only peeking their little heads out of the hen house from time to time in a timid, furtive manner.

But our hens are used to ranging free. And I have come to the conclusion that a chicken has an eight-day memory. For yesterday morning they were standing at the gate in a huddled mass, stepping over and slipping under one another, in a rather patient, ambling endeavor to be the first in line when I should come—as they doubtless expected I should—and let them out into the yard.

I couldn’t stand it. The day was a mad imitation of spring—so unlike this chill grey one in which my little sitting room fire is so welcome—and all the wild birds were winging and whirling overhead, dipping low over the lawn and trailing their flying notes behind them. The woods beyond were alive with the music of warblers and visiting blackbirds, and a few cocky brown thrashers strutted up and down outside the chicken run picking up bits of stray grain and corn. It’s no wonder that my girls yearned for freedom, with every other bird in the world—or, at least as far as they could see—reveling the liberty God had given them.

I scanned the sky with shaded eyes. I walked around the house and scrutinized the bare craggy limbs of the trees. I examined the fence posts in my range of vision. And then, with a very sincere prayer for divine protection, I went back and swung wide the gate. They all toppled out, halting tentatively at the threshold of grass for a moment or two as if it were the brink of destiny, then scuttling merrily from feeder to waterer to the fresh corn I had just thrown out for them. After a few moments they all repaired to a favorite spot underneath one of the hen houses, each settling into a luxury of dust-bathing with what could not be mistaken for anything but clucks of contentment.

I kept an eye on them through the windows as best I could yesterday, starting each time a robin’s flight cast an ominous shadow over the backyard. I put them up when I laid down to take a little nap after lunch. And when I let them out again they were more giddy than ever, and daring enough to wander far and wide over the backyard as they are wont to do.

I considered for a moment. It was a magnificent afternoon; there was a certain balminess even in the cool air that bespoke of spring. The sunlight warmed me through my wool sweater and everything around me implored me to come out and enjoy this gift of a day. So I hunted up a picnic blanket with a water-proof backing—which always minds me of Eleanor Lavish’s ‘mackintosh squares’—and made a pot of tea and gathered up my books and papers. I can work just as well on a blanket in the yard as I can at a desk, and, besides, the house seemed suddenly and unbearably stuffy after the bracing beauty of the outdoors.

A lovely (and productive, though that’s not as of much value) session ensued. I scribbled madly. I chewed on my pencil and sipped my tea. And I exchanged cordial greetings with my biddies as they chanced by. It was, after all, owing to them that I even considered such a treatment of a February afternoon. No great, swooping shadow portended danger; no bird of prey threatened their security. And when I put them up for the night they filed contentedly in to their run—a safe haven rather than a prison.

We’re not sure what we’re going to do long-term. (I just heard the hawk screaming overhead, and the girls, in their run today, all went hustling into their house!) As much as I’d like to sit in the yard every afternoon ;), I don’t think that’s a reasonable solution. We’ve had many suggestions, lots of advice, and a few ideas of our own…I’ll let you know what materializes…

But I take my hen-raising very seriously. It gives me infinite joy to care for God’s creatures (which is why we have so many animals and are only accumulating more! ;)), and chickens are no less amazing and wonderfully-made than any other. A little brainless, perhaps, but endearingly so. And always a delight. It calms me just to see them wandering happily over the backyard, enjoying their lot.

We’ve got to come up with something fast—I mean, obviously, the hawk is one of God’s creatures, too, and is only doing what he was designed to do. But he’s just going to have to do it somewhere else. Perhaps I could send him an eviction notice? Any ideas? 😉