Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chickens in the yard, en garde!

Last week I was leaning into the old rabbit hutch that serves as a nesting box for my hens; a very large nesting box & yet they all insist on laying their eggs on each others heads in one corner. They roll all of their eggs together & sit on them in shifts, for the first hour or so & then they forget & wander off.

Sometimes they create nests in the barn or under the coral vine & one memorable day at the foot of a hayroll, unnoticed until the eggs started to explode from the heat, just as we (the farrier & me) had started to treat Captain, a horse with chronic abscesses, while he ate. Anyone who has done this job knows once that foot is up & you start cutting, there is no relocating & starting again. An egg blew every few minutes for the hour or so it took us to find the infection, drain it, soak the hoof & pack it.

There are usually ten or so eggs to collect on any given day. I am not tall. I have to open the lid & lean my neck & shoulders over the edge to reach the pile. On this particular day, the largest bird (a Cuckoo Maran named "Bombshell") happened to be on the rafter immediately over my head. I don't know how she got there, she is not aerodynamic & I would have said she could never get her bulk off the ground more than 2 feet or so.

I do know that she launched herself off the beam with a squawk & landed with all the grace of a bag of cement on the wooden lid, knocking my breathe out of me & leaving a bruise around my torso that looks like I have been lassoed. I have not, I swear.

Then she paced back & forth on the lid until I found my feet again & she slid to the ground & wandered away.

We used to have an old black lab named Amy-Dog. In the tradition of black labs the world over, she was obsessed with tennis balls. When she was too old & decrepit to chase them she would tuck them under her massive abdomen, keeping them safe from any other dog who might be interested. The lawn mower still finds caches hidden under the cedar trees, a year after Amy-Dog has died.

Aside from tennis balls, Amy-Dog had few other interests: her food, her food bowl, anyone else's food, anything that could be mistaken for food (including a bag of flour & a bag of cranberries that made her quite ill & me too, by the time she worked it all out).

The chickens liked to nap in the cedar tree over her head until, en masse, they would all jump to the ground, & frequently onto Amy-Dog. She took this very well. Her chin would bump the ground with each impact; there were usually several as chickens almost never act alone. She never showed any sign of wanting to get up & chase them after they had moved on, just on "oof" with each landing & sometimes a head shake when it was over.

One afternoon, though, I heard a terrible squawking & crashing. Sure enough, Amy-dog was going after the chickens. Or more accurately, their hidden nest. I ran outside, grabbed her collar, made her sit & looked. There, in the nest, with the variety of chicken eggs, was a tennis ball. Amy-dog ate every egg , very efficient, one gulp, shell & all, took her tennis ball & went back to her own nest.

//My apologies to Gertrude Stein.

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