The Wandering Hen

She stood still, and silent as stone, under the garage’s small overhang.  I had to look twice to even tell it was a hen.  Her gray coloring and curved outline made her look more like a bowling pin.  The yard and driveway were coated in a layer of February’s mixed snow and ice.  The eaves protected her from a steady rain as she stared out across the driveway.

“Is that Brownie?” I asked my husband, while peering out the kitchen window.

“Yeah,” he said, “earlier, she was perfectly centered between the two trash cans.”

“She’s so strange,” I said in a tone of awe and admiration.

Since we fenced in our flock of chickens a few months back, Brownie has been one of the only birds to persistently escape.  She’s one of our oldest hens, one of the handful of chicks we bought in 2015.  A gray, speckled, Araucana (easter-egger), she lived in our small, a-frame coop for two and a half years before being forced to integrate with our much larger garage flock.  She’s also the only hen we have who sports a real and genuine beard of feathers. 

I don’t know how much a chicken thinks, but her persistent solitude and wandering captivate my imagination.  I like to think of her as something like a Desert Mother or a John the Baptist type, led by an unrelenting urge to be alone, exposed, in the wilds of our two-acre yard.

Outside of the flock, she has no protection, no direct access to food or water.  She scrounges for seeds under the wild bird feeder and drinks from the driveway puddles.  When the garage is open, she wanders it too, but I wonder if she doesn’t sometimes sleep in the old a-frame coop where she was raised.  The other day, I found her sitting, happily feasting in the open corn bin in the garage.  Clearly, she has developed a certain level of ‘street smarts.’

My oldest son and I have put her back in the pen time and time again.  Solomon corners and herds her in through the wide fence gate.  I have done the same, but the other day I lured her close with a pretzel, then bent and grabbed her by the tail feathers.  She squawked and lunged immediately, and a few seconds of battle ensued while I struggled to get my hands around her wings.  Once her wings were tucked, she calmed, and I carried her under my arm and deposited her unceremoniously in the coop.  I was surprised by the fierceness of her fight.  She was out again the next day.

I don’t know what that hen has to tell me, to teach me, but I continue to watch her with admiration as she persists in holding steady, defining her own way of being in this large and lovely world.   

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