A Chicken Story: Matters of LIfe & Death

I was looking at the traffic to my website yesterday and found out there is a percentage of people who don't know me that get to my site because of a search for chicken pictures. So I guess I'll put out a little more feed for the chicken lovers of the world and post the following story! I have been writing little stories about my chickens for the last year or so. Some of you may have noticed the pictures I have on this site of some of them. I have now published a book of stories called Little Chicken Stories which you may order simply by emailing me from this site. The following is one of the chapters. Matters of Life & Death by Mary Rocap The summer of 2007 in the Piedmont of North Carolina was hot and dry. The average high was 96; the highest high was 105. August was the hottest and second driest month on record at the Raleigh Durham Airport (the official weather data collection spot in our area). Dogwoods were turning brown; poplars were losing yellowed leaves. The local growers of the Hillsborough Farmers Market had given up irrigating since no amount of watering seemed to quench the thirst of the soil and their ponds were getting low. People asked politely about their neighbor’s wells. The end of summer was also when our friend Greg was trying to figure out why he had no energy and would shake with cold while running a temperature. Turned out he had leukemia. He called me from the hospital just before going into a week of chemotherapy saying he and his wife Carol were confident they could beat this. One week later he was dead – a catastrophic reaction, from which he could not, did not recover. The heat stressed everybody and it stressed our hens; they started laying fewer eggs as if to say “Just be thankful we made it through another day.” A day they had spent with their panting beaks open, seeking the shade and relative cool of the woods surrounding our home. Why one of our hens would decide to sit on a clutch during this hot spell is beyond me. But sit she did in the coop where temperatures surely were 10 degrees above the actual. She had laid claim to eight eggs. After three weeks of her sitting, looking mean, and poophing out when approached, there was movement and a little head shyly peeking out from her breast where she sat on her nest. By the end of the day there were three little fluff balls, a buff and two with shades of gray coloration. The next day she left her nest abandoning the five remaining eggs, and took her little brood down the plank to the fenced area under the coop. We rejoiced at her accomplishment in the face of such adverse conditions. That evening we caused a complete panic as Tom decided to it was time to confine an increasingly pesky rooster. There was chaos and pandemonium. The little chicks fled through the fence, but Momma was trapped. Tom and my attentions were completely focused on the rooster and so didn’t appreciate the desperate situation we had created for Momma. She eventually got herself over the 6-foot fence and shot like a bat from hell through the woods in hot pursuit of her babes. At that point the situation we had created sunk in and we went into search and rescue mode. We listened for peeps – couldn’t hear any; walked slowly through the woods – didn’t see any. It was an hour ‘til dusk and time was short. Alas, we did not find them. We delayed closing up the birds ‘til well after dark hoping they would return. We felt like idiots. This was the within days of receiving word of Greg’s death. At our very late dinner Tom prayed “Thy will be done.” to which I involuntarily responded “No.” I wasn’t ready for another dose of God’s will. The next morning I went out looking for Momma and her chicks. I went to the hen house and was surprised to find one of the five remaining eggs had a crack in it. I picked it up and it peeped! Completely taken aback I squeezed it slightly and it peeped again. Who knew a chick peeped before hatching? Who knew that eggs cool to the touch, abandoned a whole day would be viable? I picked up all five eggs and hurried inside making a little nest in a basket and setting it under the heat lamp that was warming our 10-day old mail-order chicks housed in a big box in our living room. I called work and said I would be late, called my Mom & Dad to see if they wanted to come over and watch with me, and called Tom with the good news. In fact, while the sound of the peep was good news I learned it takes some time and effort for a chick to hatch. The egg shutters and shakes. Eventually more of the shell opened and we could see a little beak with its egg tooth and some of the body. The whole body pulsed like a little heart, straining against the constraints of the shell. Surprisingly, the membrane seemed to pose the most difficulty, tearing separately from the breaking of the shell. I called my neighbor Joy who has a lot more experience in these matters and she counseled against helping the chick out of the shell (which I was inclined to do). She said it is the effort of the chick against the shell that makes the chick ready to stand after hatching. Realizing this is a solitary task for the chick I reluctantly left for work. Mom said she would check in on the progress. At 12:30 she reported that we had the cutest little fluffy buff chick. What good and amazing news! When I got home late afternoon, wonder-of-wonders, Momma was back with her three little ones. We introduced her new one to her and she accepted it with solemnity. I know that human life, the life of my friend Greg, is not comparable to the lives of my little birds. He was a close friend, my best song critic, a wise and compassionate person. I miss him. Yet I know that God loves all of his creation – all creatures great and small. It is written that God knows when every sparrow falls (“Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight” Luke 12:6) and those words resonate in me. I love the song “His Eye is on the Sparrow” with its colliery line “and I know he cares for me” made famous by Ethel Waters. And in truth, the miraculous life of these little birds has been some comfort. Life is a mystery. In the end we don’t know what death is or what purpose it serves. It pleases me that Momma and her chicks’ lives were spared; it hurts that Greg’s life was taken and that hurt will stay hurt a long time. “The Lord giveth, the Lord takest away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) I have to try to offer both the rejoicing and the mourning to God and claim, by faith, that death is not the end, but a new beginning. Life will have the last word, not death. And so, journey on Greg.

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