This was not how the story was meant to end. Although it’s not surprising, I suppose, for those who raise chickens.
The featured image? It has nothing to do with the topic but the image of a path into the woods serves as a relatively useful metaphor for dealing with the awful experience of losing a pet.
Yes, our hens are pets.
For a while, I thought the worst consequence of keeping hens was incurring the wrath of some nameless nemesis of a neighbor who repeatedly called Animal Control for no good reason. I was wrong.
The other morning, I went out to the coop, and it was too quiet. And then I noticed the feathers.
So many feathers.
So many white feathers scattered all over the yard.
And along the side of the house. Along with other things.
It was probably a raccoon or a skunk. Possibly one of the local cats that wanders unchecked, but probably a raccoon. Maybe a possum. We have those in Sacramento, apparently.
All I know is Wonderwing is gone.
She was always the one to squirm free of the coop. The one who skittered away from a proffered stroking. And I couldn’t keep her safe. My little bird.
I still don’t know if something burrowed in or worked through a gap in the chicken run. It’s possible she got loose at night and couldn’t get back in, but I don’t think so. Something got in.
What could I have done? I don’t know. Probably something. I’ve certainly armored up the coop more now, setting up rakes and pipes and other pitfalls and obstacles, added dirt and barriers to burrowers, and gone out at dusk each night to lock Kylo Hen and Hobbes into the coop.
I’ve read. I’ve mourned. I’ve tried to learn. My wife found a wonderful blog about dealing with the loss of a hen. It’s real grief. You lose a living spirit who was part of your family.
It’s not like losing a rock, a favorite book, or Tucker Carlson or Lauren Boebert or Marjorie Taylor Greene; you’re losing an living, breathing soul, an animal with a distinct personality and a distinct life.
But time goes on. You bulk up the protections around your remaining hens, and you start to feel better when two, three, four nights go by and they’ve survived. You gather eggs, you clean the coop, you keep the hens fed and watered and you check them every night, leaving traps of rakes and pointy sticks to discourage predators.
You think that maybe if it was a raccoon or a skunk or a possum, maybe they’ll deal damage to your nemesis neighbor next, the neighbor who, after Animal Control came and cleared your hens, decided to report your travel trailer in the driveway. Yes, I’m bitter about that, given all the other trailers and boats that get to be parked unflagged in our neighborhood. Go get ’em, omnivores!
And no, I can’t be the bigger person by finding out who actually filed various complaints because they are all confidential. But on the bright side, I can’t find out who filed various complaints because they are all confidential.
Or maybe you just start reporting all your neighbors who use leaf blowers before 9 AM. Just in case it’s one of them.
But then you realize Wonderwing wouldn’t want that. Wonderwing was better than your NIMBY neighbors. Each day rolls into the next. And you start to be okay.
You hope that she didn’t suffer long, that it was quick. You know you kept her safe, warm, well-fed. Despite your atheistic proclivities, you hope your little chicken has started down a path to a Golden Hen House In The Sky.
And you will definitely keep an eye on the coop at night and barricade the fences and doors.
At least until you get complacent again.