What is the last sound a chicken makes before dawn in the last seconds of her last day on Earth?
It is an age-old question that, sadly, I think I can answer.
She was our last surviving chicken, the others having succumbed to either old age or illness or idiocy or foxes.
She may be the only animal in Fooleryland never to have been given a name, so for now let’s call her Chicken Dinner. Through the haze of a deep slumber and a vivid dream I became aware of Chicken Dinner's frantic squawks. In my fitful pre-dawn sleep I finally broke through the surface of the dream with a start and couldn’t decide what was real and what was in my head (this happens constantly). Was the hen in my dream, scratching in the sand at the feet of a character from the TV show “Magnum P.I.,” or was she awake long before daybreak, looking for bugs under my bedroom window?
Eyes open, seeing nothing in the darkness, I listened: nothing. Had I imagined it? I checked the clock - 5:37 a.m. I must have imagined it, because chickens don’t get up that early, do they? Not that I would know; I don’t get up that early either. She must have gotten an early start and run into the fox, right under my bedroom window. Not a feather to be found in the yard, and no one around Fooleryland has seen Chicken Dinner since. Sigh.
Still, it could have been a dream. It makes perfect sense to me that the stuffy futzy character Higgins might demand over and over, with increasing insistency, over the cackling of a deranged hen, “WHAT ABOUT THE HUCKLEBERRIES?”
(Original photo via this guy)
Just another morning in Fooleryland. We’ll miss you, Chicken Dinner.
(Photo by Steve Davis)
But that's not what I came here to tell you about. I told you that so I can tell you this:
Dad has a new TV.
I KNOW, RIGHT? It's all making sense to you now.
Tuesday night I came home from work to this news: "Mom, Grandma and Grandpa -- well, Grandpa -- got a new giant flat screen TV!"
Whoa, Sailor, calm down.
"And he's giving his old one to US!"
Really. "Oh-h-h-h-h no," I said. "I don't want it."
"But MO-O-O-OMMMM!" they whined, "Dad wants it!"
It isn't possible to take a single photo of this TV. It must be scanned by satellite from space and the resulting several photos stitched together into a collage. Lucky for you, I have the technology:
And, for scale, here's musician and raconteur John Roderick, who is almost 8 feet tall, pretty sure:
So we've established that this is a large piece of furniture.
"Can we put it into the play room, Mom?"
"Oh-h-h-h-h no," I said. "It's a projection screen and could be broken by flying Barbies. Plus, I don't want you two holed up in there watching MORE TV, completely unsupervised. Also, we don't have a satellite hookup in the play room and I don't think we can get that thing through the narrow play room doorway." That covers it.
"But MO-O-O-OMMMM!" they whined.
Wednesday night I came home from work to this news:
"Mom, Dad says he wants Grandpa's giant TV and he's gonna put it in the office. We get satellite TV in the office, and he's gonna make a Man Cave!"
"Well, that's okay," I said, "As long as he doesn't want it in the living room. I'll talk to Dad tonight." And I peeked into our unused office -- unused because the air conditioning and heat don't reach it and it's either Antarctica cold or Sahara hot. We shove crap into the office, mostly. Also, my brother Mantel Man is storing a bunch of his large neatly-packed tubs of lead in there. And those leaden tubs were all now moved to a completely different wall, the two-ton plaid monstrosity of a couch standing on one end, and a space cleared out against the far wall for Dad's behemoth charity TV.
Great, Chas is nesting.
Thursday night I came home from work but stopped by Mom and Dad's house to deliver something before heading home. "There's a TV at your house," Mom informed me.
"I figured there would be," I said, "But how did they get it over there?"
I tried to imagine the scene. My father at age 78 is basically indestructible, and his younger brother Ken was here and available to help, and of course there's Chas . . . but still, I couldn't picture two white-haired guys and my husband with a bad back loading the world's tallest television into the back of a pickup and unloading it without at least one death occurring.
"It was really something," said Mom. "They got it into the tractor scoop and drove it over to your house!"
Really. Now that's something I'd watch on TV.
"Tell me someone had the presence of mind to get video!" I gasped.
"Oh, we should have, darn it," said Mom.
"No pictures even? Really? And you have a blogger in the family?" HAVE I TAUGHT YOU NOTHING?! I wanted to scream.
So you're left with this, amigos, plus your healthy imaginations. I'm sorry I didn't get video, but it would have been grainy and far away, anyway. The TV's too big for the lens.
I recommend you go read Part 1, "Why the Chicken Crossed the Road," so you're caught up with the rest of the class. Go on, read it, but hurry back. We'll wait.
Tuesday evening I walked into the house after work and Chas had dinner almost ready. I volunteered to go round up the kids, so, still wearing my dress and heels, I went outside. On the road halfway between my parents' house and ours I saw Sparky with her grandmother, patiently leading a chicken down the road. "What are you doing?" I asked as I approached.
Mom had a cup of chick scratch in her hand and was throwing handfuls of it onto the road's edge. "Oh, we're just chumming Caramel with this to get her home," Mom answered. And it was working. They had that crazy hen almost home, all the way from Mom's house. But all of a sudden Caramel realized what was going on and turned around. She dashed into the ditch to try to get around us and head for the open road, back to Grandma's house, or at least away from us. Into the ditch I went in my dress and heels, cutting off Caramel's escape. "HA!" I yelled, which works with cows and apparently not with chickens. For all of my experience herding cows in high heels I had no experience herding chickens down the road, in any attire. The bird and I dodged and parried and dodged again, and finally I had had enough.
"I'm done," I announced. "Sparky, it's dinner time. Caramel is on her own." We left that crazy hen beside the road, happily pecking the chick scratch from the dirt. She spent another night on my front porch and was gone before first light again, across the road to Grandma's house.
There are places in this world -- many of them in my own neighborhood -- where sneaking a chicken into a neighbor's hen house by the light of the moon would get a person shot full of buckshot, or worse. Fooleryland isn't one of those places. And so Wednesday night at around 10:15, on a sudden whim, I found myself cradling Caramel in my arms and walking her down the road under blazing moonlight to my parents' chicken compound. If that's where she wanted to be then I would move her there. She would have to sleep in the hen house with the other chickens, which would be a little bit traumatizing for her, but nothing as bad as being jumped by Chicken Dinner ever day or being stalked by a fox.
I approached my parents' house, unsure what do to. With arms full of bird and a cardboard box in one hand I couldn't open their door, and I was afraid I would wake one of them if I rang the bell. So I sneaked quietly past the house to the chicken compound, unlatched the gate, and deposited Caramel on the floor of the coop. She was sleepy from our walk and made no attempt to flee, so I clapped the 3-sided box down over her and she stayed put.
Thursday Chicken Dinner was stuffed into another box and taken to the feed store to be given to the first person who asked. I'm guessing he was swimming in gravy that night.
Check back tomorrow for the epilogue.
(Original photo stolen from this site)
Caramel, the oldest of our hens at about five years, decided she had had enough of her hen house. Perhaps it was the frenzied attentions of the rooster, Chicken Dinner, who streaked across the yard at full speed to rape whichever hen was unlucky enough to catch his eye. (I never wanted a rooster, and you can read about how Chicken Dinner came to live with us here.) So about two weeks ago Caramel started hanging out under the bottle brush bushes outside my bedroom window. She could not be herded back, nor would she allow me to pick her up to move her. I worried that she would forget where food and water were (chickens have remarkably small brains) so the kids and Chas, with their somewhat larger brains, wisely set up special feeders for Caramel.
She then made camp on our front porch.
Every night for nearly two weeks she slept a few inches above the ground, on the step. I tried putting a 3-sided box over her for shelter from the morning dew, but she crawled out to sleep next to the box.
I worried about the fox.
While a fox would never come up onto our porch, even before dawn, I knew that Caramel would get an early start on the bugs and seeds in the yard and near the road, where the fox would dare to venture. One day Caramel would definitely wake up too early, shuffle out to the road, and meet the fox.
I thought that day had come Tuesday morning.
I looked out my window at first light to see if Caramel was on the lawn, and I saw feathers in the middle of the road. Fluffy downy feathers, the ones that are closest to the chicken's skin and keep her warm -- the ones you don't see unless a predator has yanked them from a hen and spilled them all over the road. I thought my hen was surely gone. But in the afternoon my mom called me at work to update me. "Caramel is at our house," said Mom. "She's been over here all day, and she's fine." Mom and Dad live across the road, about an eighth of a mile walk, hen house to hen house. That chicken had covered some ground.
"Oh, thank goodness," I said. "And she doesn't look beaten up -- like a fox took a chunk out of her?" I asked.
"No," said Mom, then added with a twinkle in her voice, "Your father said she showed up here with a dead fox in her mouth."
This is farm humor. I like it.
More tomorrow. You can't have too much chicken information in one day. You have to pace yourself.
(Original photo used by permission from Wikimedia Commons)
"Hi, it's me. Now don't get mad. I'm okay. But . . . "
Unrestrained chuckling through the phone, nervous laughter from my hosts.
" . . . and the car is okay, mostly, but it's in a ditch. Stop laughing! Well, the back wheels are, anyway. It's not THAT funny. But don't worry -- I called Triple A --"
-- all by myself, with only a little help --
"-- and I'm here with Don and Lillian and I want you to come wait for Triple A with me."
Silence. Possible heavy sighs.
"And you can't call my cell because I left it at work, so that's why I'm borrowing Don and Lillian's phone to call you. And the inside of the car smells like salad. Ready for the address?"
The address was easier told to my husband -- who has a quick mind, an astonishing memory and better than average directional skills -- than to the Triple A lady in Detroit or Baltimore who did not believe that "1447 County Road D 1/2" was a real address, and who balked at the idea of a gravel driveway that wrapped around a small field, bordered by ditches. One of which I didn't know was there. So.
"Once they remove the car from the ditch, Ma'am, will you need it to be towed anywhere?" she asked.
"Not unless I broke it," I answered, truthfully. "I think I'll be good to go."
And I was, though after the day I had I did NOT need more public humiliation or personal distress. But that's what wine is for, right?
The names have not been changed because I suspect no one in this story is THAT innocent. Addresses have been changed because these good people need to be protected from weirdos. But the 1/2 on the street address is REAL.
The boy who stayed at our house last night last night informed me, after the kids had been sacked out for ten minutes, that he sometimes starts coughing when he's asleep. "Not too often," said Ralph [not his real name]. "Maybe once a week, or twice." This didn't seem important enough for all three kids to get up to tell me.
"Okay," I said.
"You don't understand, Mom," Smedley interjected.
"Yeah, when Ralph coughs he needs water right away, Mom!" said Sparky. Still no reaction from their unconcerned mother (me).
"And if he doesn't get water, he passes out," Smedley offered. Passing out while lying in bed -- what's the problem?
"All three of you have water, right?" I asked.
"Yes, but Mom? If he doesn't get water in time, he passes out!" Sparky reiterated.
"I heard that," I said, but I was cut off.
"And I could die," Ralph stated flatly. Then he coughed.
"He could DIE, Mom!" chorused my daughters.
"Really," I said, but I was thinking, that would just be our luck, right? "Well, how do you handle it at home, Ralph?" I asked. This would have been good information to have a handle on before 9:30 p.m. And he told me that one or another of his siblings was always in the room with him, to wake him up so he could drink water so he wouldn't pass out so he wouldn't die.
"Oh," I said.
"I have a plan, Mom!" Smedley exclaimed. "When Ralph starts coughing I'll throw my inflatable ball down at him -- the one with sand in the bottom that I got at the circus? -- because I'll be up above him in the bunk bed."
"Good plan," I said. It's good to have a plan. "Okay, goodnight everybody. No coughing, no passing out, and no dying tonight, okay?" A chorus of goodnights.
All three kids were at the table for pancakes this morning. I like to think it's the lure of my homemade pancakes that kept Ralph alive, but I think it was probably just a bye week for Death.
(Photo used with permission)
We had two hens of this breed, until a few days ago. Their names were Penny and Not Penny, but your guess is as good as mine which was which. They were both terribly ragged, with clumps of feathers missing -- victims of Chicken Dinner, The Rooster I Never Wanted (he was dumped upon us by The Chicken Fairy, and you can read that story here). Neither Penny nor Not Penny was particularly photogenic in their beaten-down state, so I opted to use a photo of the supermodel pictured above.
Penny had had a bad year; she was never the same after being mauled by A Beagle Who Shall Remain Nameless last summer, and almost dying. Against the odds Penny survived, but ever after all of the other hens picked on her (probably sensing her weakness) and she became a loner. She avoided the coop during the day, preferring to lay her eggs in the storage room or behind my car tire, and she wandered far afield by herself and seemed to enjoy the solitude. Last fall I was driving down our road with my sister in the car, and there in the middle of the road was Penny, not budging. I pulled the car up inches from her, rolled down the window, looked down on her bedraggled head, and said, "Go home, Penny." To my sister's great amusement, Penny went home.
When Chicken Dinner, the aforementioned rooster, matured in the fall, he began to bother Penny, so Penny started bunking on a four-inch shelf in an open-air shed, five feet in the air. It couldn't have been comfortable, but she preferred it to the coop. I knew something was wrong and started paying attention. One evening around dusk I plucked Penny off the shelf while she dozed, walked her into the coop to gently put her on a perch, and locked her in. Within a few minutes Chicken Dinner had roused himself from sleep, hopped down from his perch, chased Penny into a far corner, pinned her to the dirt on her side, and was savaging her for no discernible reason. I marched into the coop, picked up the terrified hen, backhanded Chicken Dinner, and whisked Penny back outside to the shed to sleep on her shelf. "I'll never make you go in there again," I told her, and I didn't.
That shed shelf bedroom would be Penny's undoing. Penny always rose with the sun (unlike the rest of the chickens, who stay locked up until midday so at least some of them have to lay eggs in the nest boxes instead of the garage). She would hop down to start her endless search for seeds, bugs and veggie scraps. The other morning our new fox neighbor was waiting for her.
This is all that remains of Penny.
Or, it could have been Not Penny -- I'm not sure. Either way, they're both gone, and so is the Buff Orpington hen who made a beeline for the pasture every day. I don't know why she did that; chickens must have their reasons. In any case, McGillicuddy also became a to-go meal for the fox.
Just after sunset tonight I saw the fox from my kitchen window as he trotted west along the berry hedge. He disappeared behind the big hay barn, but on a hunch I went outside and stood by our fence, watching. Sure enough, in a minute he reappeared, trotting toward our yard. He was coming surprisingly close for a bright orange animal in the half-light of dusk. I called to him.
"No chicken tonight," I taunted. He didn't hear me and kept advancing. "Go on, beat it," I shouted again. This time he heard me, and froze in his tracks. One more word from me and the fox sprang back toward the berry bushes, covering a great distance in a few leaps. He's gone, but he'll be back every day until he gets all the chickens. I'm afraid their carefree days of freedom are over, poor babies.
Except maybe for Chicken Dinner. I think I'll let him out nice and early.
Spring storms are the best. The colors become as electrically-charged as the air.
These tiny treasures were hiding beneath the common detritus of life here in Fooleryland.
I had carefully cut and saved the label from a package that was under 2010's Christmas tree.
And the little clothespin ladies are some of Smedley's curious little creations that I find all over the house. She has the greatest sense of proportion and whimsy.
I really miss that Booze Fairy, though. When's she due back?
It happened today. My eyelids gave out under their own weight and one fold swallowed another fold, like an accordion.
Expensive snake oil helps a bit, however. I'm grateful.