Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Crossing the Line to Home

It's been awhile, I know. There have been other demands, other disciplines toward which to lean. The “pen”, figuratively speaking, has necessarily remained in the drawer.
But never mind all that. Despite the fact that the garden has finally been put to bed, the countryside is nonetheless alive; the farmstead soulfully evocative in its quieter, wintry way as the first barely-discernible snowflakes portend the assurance of ample more.
Monday night we finally moved the segregated hens from the Annex to the main chicken yard. Having grown larger and more secure since their mid-September arrival, the two Bantam Dark Brahmas and the single Blue Wyandotte were ready to find their place in the larger community and coops. The Blue was ready some time ago, having arrived at 14 weeks of age as the replacement from the same brood as the one killed by a hawk a few weeks earlier. The Bantams, however, arriving at six weeks of age, had growing to do, and they seemed to appreciate the companionship of the older Blue. But with their own maturity and the approach of winter, it was time. That, and a week with sparse daytime commitments on our calendar, affording a more watchful transition.
Monday night, then, around 9 o’clock, equipped with dim headlights attached to the bill of a cap, we accomplished the great migration; lifting each drowsing hen in turn out of her familiar roosting and depositing in their new home.

It isn't, however, the night that worries me. The hens sleep. All are nonplussed by the new arrangement. Morning is the concern. Amendments to the pecking order and all that; plus the fact that two of the new residents are half the size of everyone else. What was I thinking?
Morning came, I opened the hatches, the girls descended, and the usual shuffling ensued. Pecking and chasing, but less than I expected. The Blue admirably and tenaciously held her own, chest-bumping the occasional challenger. The Bantams, of course, promptly escaped the hassle by slipping through the fence and roaming the wild and unprotected yard. I understand the popular fondness for “free-range”, but the vulnerability unnerves me. I maneuvered them back inside -- multiple times during the course of the day. And dusk descended -- dusk being the final vulnerability and ambiguity. Will the newcomers follow the others inside and up the ramp to bed, or feel lost, displaced and confused? It's happened both ways.

I went out to watch and discourage another escape toward more familiar roosting environs. The Blue readily followed the others up the ramp of her new home, but the Bantams paced the fence line in tandem. I stood just outside, unwittingly stepping into the theatre of time in separation. The chickens and I respectively sensed that we straddled a demarcating line, but that line was as diaphanous as it was decisive. What lay on either side was as unknown as the nudge that would eventually carry us over it.

But whether spontaneous or considered, we were nudged. Instead of the deterrent I intended to present standing on the outside of the fence, I apparently represented something quite different. One of the Bantams, summoning all its desperate resources, took a fluttering leap to the top of the fence and then willingly into my hands, where she settled into a heart-melting and passive contentedness. We stood there for moments, the shelter and the sheltered, before I gingerly made my way inside. Still I held her, until the fearful laments of her grounded partner drew her up and I set her down. Once more companioned, they again surveyed the options before taking a deep and determined breath, stepped across the threshold of their new home and as the last of the flock, walked side by side up the ramp to bed.

I admit the lump in my throat and the tear descending my cheek -- of relief? Or pride? Perhaps the tendered heart of the new grandfather I have recently become?

I don't know. I only know that as I walked back toward the house I felt a new appreciation for the resilience of life, the capacities for strength and courage, and the willingness to embrace the possibilities as well as the vulnerabilities of a new normal.

And I slept better last night as well.