She died last night–the hen I found two weeks ago tucked into the grass after a brutal hard rain and wind. She was out on the other side of our trees, which is a long way from the hen house and barn. I was walking the dogs and noticed her, an orange ball in cold, sparkling grass. The dogs leapt the ditch and I splashed through it to check her out. She was too weak to walk back to the barn, so I hoisted her into my arms. She was warm. Her feet clutched my hand. The dogs danced around me and went on to sniff. I set her in the feed room, found a towel and wrapped her in it.
After awhile she unwrapped herself, and stood upright which is not natural for hens. She would prop herself against buckets. It was almost as if muscles in her back had been strained. She did not move very much. We don’t know if the roosters drove her out there, or if an owl or hawk grabbed her and dropped her. We kept her in the feed room to keep her away from the roosters.
Bruce is the compassionate one. She had feces covering her bottom from not moving, so he got a bucket and a rubber feed tub and Dawn dish detergent and washed her. He set her on fresh hay and hand fed her and watered her. Yesterday I saw she was failing and laid my hand on her back. She was gone by nightfall. She was likely one of the original hens that survived the hen house massacre when we left the chicken house door open and lost five hens to assorted predators. She was already in a shopping bag when I came out to the barn. There’s a dull thud of sorrow when one of these farm animals passes.
I did a head count in the chicken shed and noticed we were down by one. I mentioned it to Bruce and he said he wouldn’t be coming back. He was the chick born two summers ago that looked like a hen for the longest time. We throw them on the fencerow for the coyotes.
“Bruce, Bruce there’s a raccoon in the barn.” I saw her like a monster in the rafters of the room beside Morgen’s stall. He said he couldn’t shoot her because the sound would frighten the horses. We watched her climb through a hole into the area where I keep my horses and walk along it and up into the loft. Several chickens roost with the horses. We’d already found one with her neck feathers torn off, her neck raw meat. We locked her in the tack room away from the roosters so she could heal.
I did not like that this fierce creature was living in the barn. We bought a live trap and Bruce placed it in the barn with a can of cat food in the middle. But the raccoon didn’t take us up on it.
I pulled the barn door open, it was evening, and I wanted to check on the mares, with dogs in hand. The raccoon came at me over the bales of hay. She was big. I pulled the dogs back and screamed. The raccoon flipped over backwards to get away from us. I was glad for my dogs.
A few weeks later I saw an adolescent raccoon walking along the paddock fence. It was so close I could have wrapped her in my arms, but she was no Disney cartoon, no, just a frightened youngster trying to find a way out of the fence. I called Bruce at work. He said he saw a milking female dead on the road the next farm over that this young one was probably her baby. I watched the pup crawl under the fence and disappear into the grass.
The plane buzzed, and I mean buzzed, overhead, sounding like a local air show. I couldn’t ignore it any longer, leaving the latest Washington drama to the CBS morning show and walked to the head of our road. Sure enough a flying tractor was spraying our neighbor’s wheat. (He is painted the opposite of John Deere–yellow with green trim.) He’d drop lower than a story on a house and skim along the field, releasing pesticide and then pull up banking around to make another pass–something beautiful about the pilot’s skill, those long sweeping lines, a work that began almost as soon as planes were invented. I pushed my iPhone at the image and followed him trying to video. Even my neighbor stopped on the road to watch. When the pilot finished, he flew smack dab overhead. I waved, tried to snap a picture.
Bruce called me to come outside. He stood on the porch holding a cedar wax wing her feathers translucent in his hands. “I found her on the road. She might have hit a car rising into the air, or hit our window and ended on the road.” I felt that dull thud of loss and admiration for her beauty. He said, “If you find one you’ll find more. They’re quite social. They swoop and dive. They will take food and share it with others. One will take a berry in its beak and give it to the next bird who might give it to the next. They’re quite gentle little birds.”
We prayed for dry weather and got a week of cool wind and sun. The farmers finished their planting and we put up our hay. We looked at the cracks in the ground and thought drought the rest of the summer. Then we prayed for rain to nourish those baby plants and our shorn hayfield. And the rains came, four inches worth.
In the daily office a few days ago I found verses I’d memorized in the King James when I left home for college and my life shifted in a big way but that I’d lost until now. “For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs:But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven. A land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year” (Deut. 11:10 – 12).