Funny thing happened on the way to the corral this week. ‘An ‘empty nest’ experience for a ‘Mother Hen’, you might say. Let me explain.
Regular readers will remember I refurbished my chicken coop and fenced chicken yard a few months back and added six hens to the ‘family’ at Las Golondrinas. I chop and shred fresh ’salad’ for my Girls every day and in turn they’re keeping me as well as friends and neighbors supplied with fresh eggs. I confess, I’m something of a Mother Hen. I’m enjoying looking after my ‘Girls’. There’s much that’s endearing about six ‘young ‘uns’ rushing to the sound of your voice, swarming eagerly over the food you prepare. Must be like the endorphin rush a mother gets watching her family chow down on her home cooking.
Anyhow, after thorough orientation to their coop and nesting boxes inside the sizeable fenced chicken pen, I changed the entry gate to the pen to allow chickens access while keeping donkeys and the goat OUT. I want my ‘Girls’ to free range over my two acres as much as they want — but return to the coop for roosting at night.
Took my Girls no time to discover the big wide world outside the chicken pen. I was glad to see them scratching up chicken bliss outside their fence. But there are Great Horned Owls around my place and occasionally coyotes and stray dogs. It’s risky outside the coop.
But how to get chickens up to speed on the Farmer’s agenda: leave in the morning, come back before dark? Um-hm. If you know chickens, you know they’re not the sharpest knives in the Cosmic Drawer. Hence, ‘empty nest’ anxiety at Las Golondrinas.
So, one day this week, when I called the birds at feeding time, I counted only five Girls following me into the chicken yard for salad greens. One was missing. I called and called. Number 6 was conspicuously absent. I said to myself with resignation, “Well, this is your choice, Mr. Farmer. This is the risk and the reality: you cage them, or you let ‘em go.”
Rather sadly I finished up in the chicken pen and headed around the well-house to the corral and barn to feed my donkeys and goat.
I stopped in my tracks at sight of a sizeable ‘lake’ in my lower corral. I knew instantly what had happened: I left the watering hose on overnight that fills the large water trough at the barn; the all-night overflow ponded in the lower corral. Absent-minded mistake; distraction; trying to do too many things before taking off for karaoke in Albuquerque; not keeping focused on the task.
But right in the middle of my growled Self-talk about ‘absent-mindedness’ and ‘empty nest’ risks my mood shifted radically. Standing ankle deep in the make-shift lake, having the time of her life pretending to be a duck, was my hen #6. It was 97 degrees outside that afternoon and the little red hen was having too much fun wading in the pool to come to the chicken pen for her dinner!
It’s true, most of what we worry about NEVER happens. In my case, not only were my fears unfounded, my little red hen was exercising her freedom and having the time of her life. She was living her joys, not her fears. That’s as good as it gets for any of us.
That little hen taught Burnsie and Me a useful lesson. I know risk is real. I know. Maybe the little hen knows too. I know my story of the missing hen could have ended in a carcass and pile of feathers. But call it what you will, ‘joy’, ‘bliss’, whatever, watching that young chicken explore the ‘miracle’ of that chance pool, seeing her fixation and absorption in her discovery, made me see there is a risk in life greater than death; there is the sadder risk of an unlived life.
Life at its best, whatever one’s age or circumstance, is discovering Life’s ‘pools of pleasure’ and wading into them without looking back!
Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile