Eulogy to Our Chicken
It’s an old joke with the obvious answer of “To get to the other side.”
But the past couple of days I’ve been asking myself a variation on that same question. On Wednesday morning, my funny, sweet wild chicken decided, not for the first time, to leave the sanctuary of our yard to visit one of the neighbors. Usually, she has gone to the empty house next door, which is relatively safe, but that morning, she went into the high fence enclosure of the other neighbor. It was a fatal mistake for her. That neighbor has two pit bulls, who have a doggie door to the yard.
When I came out around noon, I easily spotted her crumpled body through the chain link fence. There was no blood and it looked like one of the dogs had quickly broken her neck. They had no interest in eating her. I never even heard a squawk out of her. Later, when my neighbor came home, she retrieved the body and I buried her the next morning in the garden that she had romped through for the past six months, a location where the morning sun touches her grave.
Cheeka was a wild hen. She arrived in our yard late last September, a young bird, about two months old and we had no idea from whence she came. She quickly joined the quail under the bushes in the back. When they ran through the yard, she ran with them, a happy wild bird enjoying the day. Of course, we fed the birds when food got scarce and we tried to figure out a way to catch Cheeka. Our neighbor, the owner of the dogs, knew someone who would add her to their hen house, but they wanted us to catch her. So much easier said than done. She was no dumb bird! She was a bit of a problem for us as our community regulations specifically say no poultry and our only defense was that she wasn’t ours. She was a wild bird just like any of the other birds that were in the yard.
Over the next few months, I fed her daily, along with the other birds, and I gave her a name. She grew into a beautiful hen with brown and rust-colored feathers with a hint of cream underneath. She came running when she heard my voice. I wouldn’t call her a pet, but she was a pleasant little animal who was perfectly happy in her life here, and I grew very fond of her. When it snowed in December, she woke me with loud, almost frantic clucks and squawks from the firethorn bushes next to my window where she’d taken refuge and complained about the strange, and cold, white blanket that covered the ground. We’d put a shelter in the yard for her, but would she use it? Of course not. She would barely go in enough to get the bits of food I put there to attempt to lure her inside.
As the sun began rising earlier in January and February, Cheeka would greet it joyfully with a series of little, happy clucks. She’d do it just outside my window for about six times, then move on to another area of the yard and repeat her chant to the sun. It was her little sun-worshiping ritual and it made me smile.
Even though she would run out to greet me and even follow me around the yard sometimes, she would never allow me close enough to touch her. She always darted away when I made a move toward her. But she wasn’t afraid of me and often kept up a conversation.
She was aware of the danger a cat presented and when a stray wandered in the yard, she raised the alarm and dashed with the quail to the safety of the hawthorne bushes along the back of our property. Like a good servant, I went out and shooed the cat away, restoring order in the yard. But I learned her squawks of alarm and danger from the couple of encounters with the stray cats.
Our dog never bothered her. He would sometimes chase her, just as he chases the quail, but to Flynn it was a game. He just wanted to play. And she fled from him to her hiding spot, clucking in annoyance, not in her alarmed voice. Even in play, she was aware the dogs and cats were a danger.
So, why, I’ve asked myself several times over the past few days, did she decide to leave the security of our yard and fly over an eight-foot fence to get into the barren dog yard next door? There was no food there. No shelter there. Why did she cross the fence?
Out of curiosity, I think. She liked to explore. She was an adventurous bird.