It's tempting to think of her as a replacement. And it's true that the only reason we have her is the loss of an earlier arrival. Exactly one week ago we answered the call from the Post Office and brought home the box containing four 10-week old hens -- four little puff balls barely the size of a softball -- shipped from southern Illinois.
Their route to our house had been a laborious trip -- first to St. Louis, then on to St. Paul, then across town in St. Paul and then back across town, eventually to Des Moines and finally Norwalk. I tracked them. Monday afternoon to Thursday morning, never mind the 2-day Express guarantee. If you are shaking your head, know only that I agree with you. It's a baffling route for anything, but especially for four little hens nestled on a scattering of wood chips and sustained by a wedge of cucumber. All that said, they did arrive and were finally liberated from their shipping box into the annex coop where they joined the other one already in residence.
But one of them didn't seem right. She stood around, lethargically; she kept her eyes closed, and only trotted around under duress. At night I had to help her navigate the few inch jump up into the coop for bed time. By Saturday morning she was still -- a feathered wisp where life had been but moved on.
I had kept in contact with the breeder -- following her counsel about diagnosis and care -- and when she heard the news she promised to ship another one out. Yes, if you are wondering, such things are guaranteed. And today, a fraction more expeditiously if no less circuitously, the new little girl arrived. She seems healthy and spry. The other girls seem to have given her welcome. I have every reason to believe she’ll thrive.
And I know she is “only a chicken”. I don't mean to make of this more than is merited. She is, on paper at least, a “replacement.” But I refuse to view any life as merely generic -- as though one were as good as another. As though we were all interchangeable. It is, I suspect, a distinctly human arrogance to view our own as the only distinguishable and appreciable pulses, and even we don't finally believe it. Experience decries it as nonsense. Lori and I may have acquired another dog just weeks after the death of our first, but if we were ever tempted to see in his similar gender and breed and coloring a cipher, a fill-in, a mere replacement for the one we had lost, he was quick to disavow us of that fiction. He would put forward his own personality, asserting his own peculiar mark. We may have wanted him to simply play the prior part, but he insisted on writing his own script; starring the individual that he is.
As, I am certain, will this new little hen. We didn't have her predecessor long enough to know her, but I am convinced enough about living, breathing creatures to believe that this new one will not walk or peck or cluck in her shadow. She will cast her own.
It will be my challenge -- me, the big, all-knowing, all-powerful Oz of a flockmaster -- to trust enough in the wonder of creation to let her.