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Loose Chickens

My eyes adjusted quickly to the hazy light of early morning in my bedroom as I woke with a start at 6:23 am to the sound of wood splitting and the insistent sound of annoyed chickens coming from our chicken coop.  A chicken in danger makes an unmistakable scream that is both a plea for help and a likely final expression of life.  Like a mortar shell or banjo, by the time you hear this kind of chicken scream, it’s usually too late.  This is not the kind of chicken sound I was hearing.  Imagine if a chicken could yodel.  That’s what I heard.  I threw on my glasses and went running down the stairs and out the door onto the deck.  Clapping my hands and yelling “whoop! WHooooop!” I saw the bear run back into the woods and away from the coop.  I didn’t hear any chickens screaming or even irritated yodeling, so I figured they had either survived the bear visit or were all dead.  Either way, I was going back to sleep.  Climbing back into bed, I had just softened into the remaining warmth of my sheets and pillow when I started to hear the chickens again.  The unmistakable sound of joyful chickens.  I kept my eyes closed hoping that I could still fall back asleep, but something made me wonder why those chickens were so blooming happy.  Hadn’t they had their own morning peace disturbed by a visiting bear?  Not only did the chickens sound happy, but they also sounded close.  Too close.  Giving up on sleep, I put my glasses on and turned to look out the window.  There, scattered through the yard and the woods were our 18 chickens frolicking free and pecking at insects.

You see, the bears, I’ve been told, aren’t as interested in the chickens as they are in the chicken feed.  The Ursus Americanus have no interest in killing the bird and dealing with all that chasing around,  blood,  and feathers.  Why work that hard when all you have to do is tear the coop door off the hinges and feast on the buffet of chicken feed?  To a bear, tearing a coop door open is like opening an envelope to us.  Having very little experience with chicken herding, before I put on my hiking boots, I grabbed some grapes from the refrigerator.  No, not for me.  The grapes were intended to entice the chickens to, on their own volition, enter back into the captivity of the chicken run.  For a moment, I considered that it might be a good idea to actually get dressed.  What if I had a run-in with the bear?  Do I want my children, the neighbor they find for help, or first responder to find me in my paisley elastic waisted pants, old Penn t-shirt, and bright coral pink sweatshirt?  Never a slave to fashion, I decided that I wasn’t about to start in this moment when our sweet and vulnerable chickens were out on the loose.  The chickens, apparently oblivious to the dangers of their liberation, may have wished for me to take the time to freshen up so they could free range a while longer.

So, there I was, in my pajamas, hiking boots,  and armed with an old bagel and a bag of mostly moldy grapes from the way back of the fridge, moseying down to the coop to survey the damage and herd our brood.  Having clapped and whoop-ed my way to the coop, it was determined that the bear was no longer on site.  She was likely sitting somewhere nearby, chewing on chicken feed, licking her fingers, and enjoying the show.  I inspected the coop to find that the side door had been torn off one of the hinges and the latch had been destroyed and tossed aside.  There were three ladies still in the coop and I let them out into the run, tossed them some grapes, and opened the door to the run.  I had hoped that these three chickens would make such loud clucks of pleasure over their morning candy treat that all the other girls would come running through the open door to share in the sugar.  Instead, two chickens ran under the coop for safety in fear of the grapes I had tossed and the third ran out the door into the woods herself.  Calling sweetly to the brood, I clucked with what I had hoped was an encouraging warmth and walked towards the wandering hens.  Unfortunately, all this did was cause the brood to split into smaller groups and disperse further away from the coop and into the woods towards the road.  That’s when I put down the grapes and picked up the stick.

All this without even a sip of coffee, never mind the full cup that I need to consume before my kids know it is safe to even approach me in the morning!  I’m not thinking about the bear anymore.  Instead, I’m carefully walking around the perimeter of the area where the chickens are pecking away at the beetles and small things that thought they were safe under damp brown leaves and the underside of dew covered twigs.  Once I got to what I assumed was the front of the caravan, I started to wave my herding stick and guided the chickens back to the door to the run.  My idea was that, with the door open, they would run towards the coop and see that they could get back in just by waddling right through the open door.  Instead, the chickens fled from me in terror and circled the chicken wire around the base of the coop and run pressing their frazzled wings into the wire and yelping for help.  I put down the stick and grabbed one of the ladies, gently stroking her throat and trying to communicate with her that my intentions were good.  I gently tossed her into the door and, turning around after picking up my herding stick, watched her waddle right back out the door.  Now what?  I opened the door even wider and tried the chase with the stick one more time.  Just because it didn’t work the first time didn’t mean it wouldn’t ever work.  Right?  Wrong.  Although, the second time around the brood ran in a group all around the coop.  They ran right past the open door doing a full lap before returning to their desperate attempts to squeeze through the chicken wire.

That’s when I started to work to retrieve the chickens one by one.  I closed the coop door so that it was open just enough for me to be able to elbow it enough to get a chicken through.  Then, as the chickens cornered themselves and pressed into the chicken wire, I would grab them, open the door enough with my elbow or foot to have room to toss the chicken into the now mostly closed door.  Then, I’d close the door again and throw in a couple grapes to keep the chickens that I managed to get in the run all there.  All these partial quotes from Rumi raced to my mind.  Wasn’t there something about how long are you going to bang on the door when it is already open?  Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open? I was sure there was a lesson in all this, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.  I wonder how much time I spend in my own life circling the sweet treats that are out, ready and waiting for me, when all I have to do is just walk down the open path to have them.  When I feel stuck, am I blind to the open doors available to me?  Am I pressing myself into the corners and making myself small in fear rather than walking proudly through the widest door to success possible? Without coffee, the lesson in all this was elusive.  Maybe it wasn’t Rumi, but Kabir?

We have two Plymouth Rock chickens that stick together and one is quite small compared to the others.  The larger one is Miss Jackson (if you’re NASTY) and her petite sidekick is named Glorious.  Miss Jackson and Glorious are always together.  Miss Jackson has confidence and Glorious is downright cheeky.  I was able to grab Miss Jackson first and Glorious decided to make her entrance into the run on her own two feet.  Miss Jackson was soothed when Glorious allowed her to select her grape first.  Perhaps this is what we also do for our friends that get somewhere the hard way?  We soothe them for all the fear and time they spent pressing up against the tight spaces until they found their way.  We say, “Hey, welcome to the run friend!  Here, you take the first delicious grape.  It’s all ok now.”.  We all need a Glorious.  Or, am I? Are YOU?  the other type of “friend”?  You know the one. The one that struggles and finally makes it to where you are and you say, as you pop the last grape into your mouth, “Too bad it took you so long to get here Miss Jackson!  You missed the grapes.”  If you happen to be the one who finds the open door first, I hope you are more like Glorious.  Share the sweetness.

After a few cups of coffee, I’ll have to figure out how to fix the door.  There are far more dangerous predators that might take advantage of the opening. Weasels, raccoons, fisher cats, fox………For now, I leave you to ponder all the open doors you aren’t noticing in your own life.  Are you running in circles?  Trapped in a corner?  Did a bear wake you and tear the gates of you prison up and now you are too scared to enjoy the freedom you now have? Stop running.  Look around.  See the delicious treats?   Be like the petite and fabulous Glorious and walk right through that open door and enjoy all the treasures just waiting for you.  Then, share.  And, if a bear comes along and destroys the walls you built around yourself, go ahead and wander with joy in the open woods.  Why not?

Sharon Fennimore
Vermont*
Sunday, August 3, 2019

*Yes, Vermont.  I moved  from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to rural Central Vermont, near Camel’s Hump Mountain, in the fall of 2018.  You could call me, but I don’t get very good cell service here in the mountains.  I continue to offer distance meditation and relaxation sessions.  And, I’m probably out herding chickens and chasing bears.  I’d love to hear from you and welcome you to send me an email that I can read after I fix the coop door.