Chicken Herald

Hark The Herald Chicken

If you can log out of Facebook™, turn off your smart phone (an oxymoronic term, I think), and log into the natural world you will find wonders that Google™ can't. When we were kids, the world was magical. That magic is still there and we can experience it if we just keep our minds open to the idea and our eyes and ears open to what's around us.

For a time, a chicken name Eleanor brought a little magic into my life. I named her after Eleanor Roosevelt because she was appealingly homely, yet forward-looking, resourceful and possessed of a strong sense of duty.

My best memories of Eleanor are of a season when the days were getting shorter and a place where the shadows of a mountain called Pioneer Peak were getting longer. In that part of the world, the sun disappears in mid-November and is not seen until early February. During daylight hours, a steely blue sky pushes against the craggy summits that surround it. The cold air is like a living thing with an iron will – sometimes clear, still and cleanand at other times hostile and alert to any mistake an outdoorsman might make.

At the time, I raised chickens for eggs, meat, amusement, and sometimes amazement. Eleanor and her sisters lived in a compound formed of a fence abutted to a simple coop. For maximum warmth, the winter coop had a low ceiling. The roof was covered with insulating straw secured by canvas. Perches were constructed close to the ceiling – where the temperature is highest. A single low-watt light bulb provided heat. If the light were to burn out overnight, the chickens could survive even at thirty below because the high roosts trapped body heat and their feathers fluffed out like coats.

Usually I fed and watered “the girls” at about three in the afternoon. I was continually fascinated by Eleanor's punctual affirmation of duty. Shortly before feeding time every day, Eleanor would take a flapping leap onto the top of the fence which enclosed her flock's group home.

She would carefully scan for predators. Dogs and coyotes were never a problem. Another resident of our yard was a crabby but fiercely protective mustang named Blue. Blue would run off anything unfamiliar and his hooves were feared weapons. Still, Eleanor was wisely alert to eagles and hawks. After a quick examination of her surroundings, she would drop to the ground and race to the house.

Eleanor would then circle the house, looking intently into every window. Once she spotted me, she would get very excited and jump onto the porch. When I emerged from the house to the porch and into the biting cold, my fowl friend would closely examine every action I made. Her head swiveled from side to side as she watched me gather feed from bags into a bucket. As I proceeded towards the coop with food and water, Eleanor galloped ahead with wings flapping and feet a'pounding. While she ran she cackled loudly to alert the rest of the flock that refreshments were forthcoming. Blue would watch with critical eye at such a tumult, but Eleanor was family, after all.

Eleanor never waited for me to open the gate to the chicken yard. She entered as she had left, by leaping onto the fence and back into the arms – I mean wings – of her comrades. I hasten to add that Eleanor never left her home for any reason except to summon me to my chores – as that was her duty.

When cold wraps it arms around the land and you're a chicken, chow time is the best of times. As a self-appointed town crier, Eleanor was a herald of good times. When I get to the pearly gates I expect to be met by a chicken who has come to tell me that it's feeding time.