When the Hen House was ready, complete with hand-picked straw in the nest boxes, we packed everyone into the car on the pretense of visiting friends in the valley.
When we turned into the yard where we were to choose Shawne’s birthday present, we found to our horror that many chickens were running around loose, with no insulated, bomb-sturdy Hen House to shelter them.
Shawne took great delight in picking out three hens to take home. Nanny was a little hen with dark red feathers. She was easy to catch. What amazed me most, when we brought her and Peeky and Cocky home to their new physicist-designed house, was the fact that they used everything, immediately.
They sat in the nests and laid eggs. They took dust baths in the dust bowls. They went inside at night and sat on the roosts to sleep. It was as if they had been raised with good manners, instead of left to grow up willy-nilly in an open yard with nothing to roost on but scrawny apricot trees.
Before long, however, tragedy struck. The neighbor’s dog jumped the fence and got hold of Nanny while she was out rummaging around. We took the limp chicken out of his mouth before he crunched down, rejoicing in the fact that she appeared unharmed.
No skin was broken. She held her head upright. She was even able to stand after a few minutes—but that was all. We took her into the house and put her into a cardboard box where she could recover from the shock, but on the third day of sitting quietly she suddenly died.
Being a good shepherd, our dog Poncho did not the hunt when his neighbor friend caught Nanny. Instead, he took a protective stance, and there wasn’t a dog or cat from blocks around who would dare jump our fence and approach the chicken pen.
I tell this story, some four decades later, because it is so similar to a remarkable book I found in the library here. It’s story that sold 2 million copies—an international best seller—a story told from an old hen’s point of view.
In many ways it’s a realistic story. The author paints a picture seen through the limited viewpoint an old hen would have. We can believe her desire to hatch an egg, the awareness of Hen House pecking order rules, the fear of a hungry weasel.
Tension build and builds as the hen flees the security of the farm, hatches an egg and then deals with the real differences she senses in her hatchling. We are caught up in the unrelenting drama as masterful as the movie “Jaws,” until in the last few sentences a resolution is reached that brings tears to our eyes, and we realize that her story is an allegory for our deepest hopes for the meaning of our lives.
Another truth emerges from the tale, even while we forgive the author a few anthropomorphic turns—animals, even old hens, are conscious beings that require our awareness and protections from abuse.