I tell my kids not to be afraid, but maybe I shouldn’t.
When was the last time you stood at the edge of the forest with both hands clasped around the trunk of a tree and shook it as hard as you could?
For me, it was last Wednesday and it is an action that I regret.
Wednesdays are our family’s busy day. With my husband at work, lessons, meetings and appointments, this middle day is always tough. Last Wednesday, I had fifteen minutes to stop at home, let the dog out, pack up some snacks and head back out to drop the kids at the babysitter so that I could make my 6:30 meeting.
Thanks to the end of daylight savings time, it was already pitch black when I pulled into the driveway. My headlights shone across the yard towards our chicken coop and I could see a buff colored lump sitting on the step in front of the closed door.
Cramped for time, I grabbed a flashlight as I let the dog out for a quick pee and run around the yard.
Upon investigation, I found that the chicken coop door had accidentally opened up at some point in the day and let the chickens run freely in the yard. This is not a big deal, except somehow the door had blown shut again before dark.
Chickens are creatures of habit and will always come home to roost at night. Except when the door to their home has been blown shut and they can’t get inside.
Two chickens were sound asleep on the front step next to the door.
One chicken was sleeping on a shovel handle that was leaning up against the compost bin.
Two more chickens were sleeping on our boat.
I stomped through the yard, grabbing sleeping chickens here and there and carried them into their coop. When chickens sleep, they really commit. Like my husband coming out of anesthesia after a sinus surgery last year, their heads kind of bob around in a semi-conscious state and their limbs move in a jerky slow motion.
At last, all but one chicken was safely back in the coop.
I gave my flashlight one last pass around the yard and in the distance, I caught a glimpse of shimmering black feathers about fifteen feet up, perched on a branch in beech tree.
The tree was small enough that I was able to wrap both hands around the trunk, which I did. Then using a motion that probably resembled what it would look like if Miley Cyrus taught Paul Bunyan to twerk, I shook and shook the tree as hard as I could.
Soon, the sleeping chicken started wobbling and slowly opening and closing her wings to keep her balance.
I shook harder.
Her feet left the branch, and she swooped into the air in a graceful and delicate flight that I did not know chickens were capable of.
Her fat-bottomed flight was so swift and so far that I couldn’t find where she landed, even with the help of both kids and bright flashlights.
Board meetings don’t wait for missing chickens, so after a few minutes, I made the choice to get in the car and proceed with our schedule. Chickens survived for thousands of years without humans, I reasoned. Certainly this one would fly up into another tree and I would find her the next morning, pecking around the coop and clucking at me to let her in.
I wish this is what happened. It is not.
The truth is, I don’t know what happened. The last I saw of that beautiful black bird was her groggy flight towards the forest. It’s been five days and my hope has dwindled to almost nothing.
Losing a chicken is a sad thing. But what I can’t stop thinking about is that as we are tucked safely into our little house at the end of a cul-de-sac in our safe little New Hampshire town, there are predators in the night lurking.
Was it a fox? A coyote? I don’t know. I imagine it would be quite delightful for a hungry predator, used to chasing tiny mice and chipmunks, to stumble across this fat, sleeping bird. A feast for the ages!
In a way, it’s exciting to think of these otherworldly creatures inhabiting the same space as us, just at a different time. It does make me think twice, though, when my son asks me at bedtime, “Mommy, can you keep the monsters away tonight?”
I can try, Bud. But there’s no guarantee. There are creatures in the night.
If you’re thinking about raising chickens, make sure you know what you’re getting into: