I missed the Ash Wednesday service yesterday because I had to bury two of my young chickens. And find a place for a wounded third. I came down to their shelter to put in dry bedding and noticed a lot of feathers on the ground. I looked for my little flock, and saw only a small cluster of five hiding in the woods. A few yards from them was the first dead one- a young rooster that one of our hens had hatched out. Our two little dogs ran up to me then, barking because they had not seen me come out and thought I was an intruder. Were they the killers? I do not know. Sparkle looked to be in heat and the girls had seen the neighbor's little fellow over here this morning. Perhaps he started it and the primitive pack instinct overrode everything I'd been teaching them. Ah, the thrill of the chase, the call of the wild. I understand. I eat meat, too, and there is something about domesticity I do not love. But now was time for communication. I moaned, expressing my grief freely. The dogs became quiet, and led me to a spot in the woods where another was expiring. Sorry, little girl. Sorry that I wasn't here to protect you. I'd had an errand to run, and trusted the dogs to continue their good behavior as chicken guards, not chasers. I thought we had an understanding. Maybe it wasn't them.
The girls came out to see why I hadn't returned and joined the search for the missing pullets. There were still seven unaccounted for. I dreaded what we would find. My husband, Luke, drove up the next moment and joined the search. He and the girls combed the thickets at one corner of the field in front of the house while I walked around the backyard and circled back up the driveway. I turned to look again at the front yard, and there were six more, running to meet the others, followed by the old red rooster, who had taken it upon himself to protect my young brood even though they were not yet grown into hens. I shouted the good news to the others and ran to count them. Old Red looked at me and I nodded my thanks. Poor fellow, though, he had some wounds on his legs and was missing some feathers. The kind a small dog might cause. But he seemed okay.
That left only one still missing. We abandoned the search, thinking she had probably met the same fate as the other two, when I heard some clucking behind me. I turned around and saw Diamond trotting behind the missing pullet, barely visible in the tall, dry grass. She sat back down so I picked her up and stroked her. She was wounded, but her eye still bright and head still perky. The girls ran over as I examined her, and I found a bloody gash in her side. Miriam informed me that Virginia had asked Diamond to find the chickens. "Virginia can talk to animals". she explained.
"That is a gift." I said in agreement.
Diamond sat patiently and comfortingly beside the hurt chicken while I stroked both of them. Sparkle had gone to lie down with the kittens and the girls wondered why she was acting so sad. One dog hides, the other helps.
We washed the pullet's wound and set her up in a safe place. She seemed to be drooping after this, and I will be surprised if she makes it. I buried the two dead in the compost. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. However, soil is full of life, and the energy will be regenerated into other forms of life. When I die, I want to buried on my land, and a tree planted over me so my descendants can eat the fruit.
The sun had come out after the day's rain, washing the breaking clouds and sky with intense pigments of orange and blue. I'd come upon disaster, but in the midst of it were moments of hope. Moments of compassion we creatures shared together that would not have happened otherwise. And it was not as bad as it could have been. Easter is coming.