So Darwin, the chicken who practices wu wei, turned 16 years of age this month (May 2010) – an unheard of age for a chicken. Most have their heads chopped off for consumption or die of shock or cold or some such thing long before this point. Rarely do they die of old age. No one I’ve queried has any idea of the life expectancy of a chicken. Indeed we’ve lost 2 of our small brood in the last two months to unknown causes – just laid down and died over a few days – both about 5 years of age. But Darwin continues on despite the traumas of youth and old age - definitely a tough old bird.
“Trauma of old age?” you ask. “Her first story chronicled the multiple raccoon attacks when she lost her eye. But have heard nothing since the miraculous virgin birth of her 6 chicks.”
Well these same chicks, which were the fulfillment of her dream, attempted to peck her to death – for who knows what reason. The ingrates! But knowing Darwin, she was probably unwilling to submit to the changing pecking order despite their advantages of youth and size.
For those who have never raised chickens they are just peaceful dumb birds. But for those of us who have been in regular proximity to these fascinating birds, they are sensitive creatures with lots of personality, Along with their character is a vicious streak. Regularly throughout our 30 years of raising chickens we’ve had to separate an unfortunate chicken from the rest when the others, for some instinctual reason, deem the singled out hen as unworthy of life. They gang up on the unfortunate fowl – viciously attempting to peck her eyes out – eventually inflicting fatal blows to the head. Well for some unknown cause – perhaps a Darwin insult – we don’t really know what they say to each other - Darwin unwilling to bow down to her ungrateful offspring – the new rising stars of the coop – her children decided it was time for her to die. So that they could rise to the top of the chicken yard? – a stepping stone to world dominance?
After the first savage attack I found Darwin huddled on the ground with a bloody head – thought she was already dead or certainly done for. But no – after a few days of tender loving care - washing the dried up blood from her head and stroking her – didn’t really think she was going to make it – found her perked up straight and tall in her new abode – a personal coop isolated from the rest for protection from their savage blows. Then at the end of the day, when I put them to bed, discovered her up on her perch once again – must have flown up. Amazing. Of course resumed her singing – an abrupt upswing at the end of a long coo. Can’t keep a good bird down.
Happily adjusted to her solitary confinement she even began laying eggs again – now in her early teens – quite late for chickens – who do most of their egg laying in their early years – before five – hence their rapid demise in the farm yard devoted to productivity. Small little off white eggs. Thought she was headed into an uneventful old age. But her troubles were not over.
Somehow the temporary barrier between the 2 parts of our coop was knocked over (probably some type of chicken commotion – which involves the panicked fluttering of wings). And once again her offspring attempted to engineer her demise.
What kind of poultry exchange was going on through the barbed wire to illicit such a destructive response? We can only imagine. “I’m in charge now.” – “Not while I, your mother, am still alive.” – “You’re not my real mother.” – “But I raised you from infancy. Demonstrated scratching and bug hunting – even protected you from the other hens, my rivals, who were trying to peck you to death, just as you are now doing to me. Show some respect for your old mother.” – “Aurgh!”
Hearing some awful squawking down in the chicken yard - Death screeches to our ears – I rushed down to find the others over my poor Darwin – pecking their mother viciously. "Poor Darwin. This must be it.” Washed off her bloodied head – once again – expected the worst – didn’t think she would make it through the night. However the next morning, instead of finding the expected dead hen, who had been so full of life, found an egg – her last egg – wanted to go out on top. Brought a tear to my eye, “What a noble chicken – productive until the very end." But this was just a last hurrah, I thought, for she is totally wobbly on her legs – like a drunken sailor after a long night in the bar - from the brutal attack - no appetite – listless and weak. “Only a few more days till her demise,” I speculated to my wife. “Plus it seems she’s now blind in her other eye. How can she even find her food or water? How can she possibly survive this latest outrage?” But after the first few days she was up and about her little coop cooing her song and vigorously scratching about for pellets and bugs, even though she was blind. Instincts are marvelous. Ah the last of her travails – or so we thought.
An Email to my daughters just 8 months ago (9-30-09)
Greetings dear ones,
Darwin, the amazing chicken, has just given up another of her many lives. Somehow a possum got into her coop – possibly slipped in at twilight before we locked them up for the evening – then squeezed through some openings in the middle of the night – attempted to eat poor Darwin – beginning with her wing. Evidently she was most vulnerable, as our high flying, escape artist sleeps on the ground now. Blind she can’t fly to her perch anymore. She put up a huge squawk, of course – not the kind to give up without a fight. Awakened by these blood curdling chicken screams we rushed down to their yard - 3AM in the morning – drove out the unwelcome intruder – but discovered a mangled pile of feathers – her wings covered in blood. This is it. How could she possibly survive this latest onslaught – coming from out of the dark?
Checked her out the next day. Confirmed the worst. Gratefully still breathing, but all her wing feathers gnawed off and definitely bruised physically and psychically. She could barely walk - blind in both eyes - pecking somewhat randomly for pellets - perhaps due to disorientation. Didn't think she would survive the week - lack of nutrition – the shock. But once again after a few unsteady days, accompanied by lots of stroking and wound washing, there was Darwin up and about – cooing, pecking and scratching in her little cage.
Has survived two raccoon attacks - blinded in one eye. Raised her miraculous brood – chronicled in 'Darwin, the Chicken who practiced Wu Wei'. Has survived two attacks by her grown children - almost gave her up for dead - lost another eye. And now has survived a possum attack - lame in one wing. 5 lives down. Hopefully she survives to die a natural death.
From the subject of your email I thought for sure you were going to tell us she was dead. She is indeed an incredible chicken, though I think her babies (had she had some in her own gene pool) might have been super-monsters.
As a footnote: When Darwin turned 16 only 2 of the 6 chicks she raised from infancy are still alive. One amazingly tough bird.
Incredible! Thought this tract was complete and ready to go to E-press – as of yesterday Sunday May 23, ’10. Then went to tend the chickens the next morning – today Monday the 24th. And lo and behold what did I see but Darwin proudly prancing in front of a freshly laid egg – the first since the savage attack of her children over a year ago.
How serendipitous. What a great ending. Whoa! Simply Whoa! Another amazing ‘divine coincidence’. A testament to the personal power of a chicken. The Universe via Darwin validating these humble efforts in a simple unassuming fashion – a major verification. I bow my head and express gratitude to whomever granted me such an unusual and intriguing creation. Who would have ever thought that I would be proud to be writing about the life of a chicken?
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