All right, a pleasant story this time. I’ll tell you about how I ended up wandering around a chicken coop, trying to save a chicken named Camilla.
Last week I was taking refuge at my dear friends’ house, with their menagerie of beautiful cats inside and spoiled city chickens in the yard. It’s the very house I’d like to live in someday. I want an urban farm with a pollinator garden, raised beds of beautiful tomatoes and too many pets. At Holly and Reese’s house, I get to live vicariously. I wish I was there all the time.
I was afraid there’d be conflict between their cats and McFluff, Adrienne’s guinea pig, who had traveled with us in a car carrier because Adrienne can’t bear to be without him. My friend looked sternly from my pig to her cats and said “Friend! Not food!” but she needn’t have even bothered. The cats regarded McFluff with disgust, and left him alone. He spent the nights in a travel cage with treats and water and two extra people to fuss over him. He spent much of the days in the yard, under the chickens’ old brooding cage, grazing on clover and fresh timothy grass.
Several times a day, the chickens get let out of their coop to run around the yard and eat grasshoppers. I was afraid this would lead to a catastrophe. The two adult hens, Camilla and Carrie, are four times McFluff’s size. Even the four juvenile hens are about twice as big as he is, and juvenile birds are still learning about what things are good to eat. But again, I shouldn’t have worried. Chickens have a natural rat phobia. They tiptoed up to McFluff calmly munching the clover, started at him, and ran away. I don’t even think McFluff noticed they were there.
Early in the morning my first or second day, I woke up to a sound right out of a Warner Brothers cartoon: a chicken carefully annunciating “Book-book-book-BAKAW!”
Chickens are animals that sound like a practical joke. Dogs don’t really say “bow wow” and cats don’t really say “meow.” If a person hid in your yard and made dog and cat noises, you’d know you were being pranked. But chickens really do say “book-book-book-BAKAW!” and when the sound wakes you up in the morning, you half expect it’s a human being imitating a chicken.
I heard the noise and snapped to attention, barely pausing long enough to get my glasses. I ran outside in my pajamas expecting a disaster. In their old house, my friends had lost a chicken to an urban raccoon, a grisly nightmare. I knew Holly had needed to take it easy in the mornings, thanks to her struggles with rheumatoid arthritis. I would rescue the chickens without waking her.
“Book-book-book-BAKAW!” resounded from the coop once more.
“I’m coming!” I cried.
There was no raccoon in the coop. There wasn’t so much as a stray cat, a rat or anything else that would disturb a chicken.
The chickens hopped hopefully over to me, to see if I had any of the frozen sweet corn Holly gives them for treats.
I counted them. There were four juvenile chickens, still in that awkward in between phase where they are neither chicks nor pullets, looking a bit like buzzards. There was Carrie, looking maternal.
Where was Camilla?
Camilla was the chicken who liked to break out of the coop and take herself for a walk on warm sunny mornings like this one. Holly has a lot of fun stories about pursuing Camilla around the neighborhood. But what if she was just hiding in an odd corner of the coop?
The coop has a very high fence and a canvas roof, with the door blocked off by two boards in case the chickens push it open or squeeze through the gap. It is full of fun things for pampered city chickens to play with: a chair and a ladder to climb on, a children’s xylophone to peck and make music. In the back is the egg box, covered with a tie dyed curtain. I couldn’t possibly search the coop from outside. I pushed my way into the door without letting the other hens out.
The flock followed me around the coop, still hoping for frozen sweet corn.
I looked behind the chair and the ladder, and then I lifted the curtain of the egg-laying box.
There was Camilla, glaring at me as if I’d interrupted her on the toilet.
You understand that chickens are descendants of the dinosaurs if you see one glaring at you from the egg box in the early morning.
I squeezed back out of the coop and went inside for coffee.
When Holly got up, I told her about my adventure. She laughed and explained that chickens have a special song they sing to celebrate laying an egg.
“It’s a chicken’s way of saying ‘hey everybody! Check it out! Look at this really cool thing I made!'” she explained.
That afternoon we had omelets, courtesy of Carrie and Camilla.
Now that I’m back in Steubenville, I’m lonesome for the urban farm and the noisy chickens. I can’t wait to go back again.
Image via pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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