Darwin, the Chicken who practiced Wu Wei

Darwin is a very unique chicken with a very inspiring story. A member of the original brood of 6 chickens, who began inhabiting our yard in May 1994, she was named by my eldest daughter Serena, who was studying evolution at the time. Living in a small fenced in pen they grew from chicks into hens – unfortunately so quietly that precautionary measures weren’t taken.

“Squawk!?” – “Eeiiawk!?” – “Awwwkkk!?”

Alarmed by the clamor in the chicken yard I ran down in my bathrobe, as it was the middle of the night.

Feathers everywhere – a few dead birds lying on the ground – But the masked marauders were still inside the coop – And the battle was still raging. Squawks and hisses mingled with the over all tumult. However with the arrival of the cavalry the raccoons darted off into the night and the frantic bundle of feathers collapsed to the ground. Still the middle of the night I decided to wait until morning to evaluate the carnage.

Bright and early I entered the yard. Three chickens dead- “No,” my daughter, Miranda, said, “I think Darwin is still alive.”

“I’m not sure how she could be. She battled raccoons last night. She’s so badly injured. Most chickens don’t survive the trauma. I doubt she’ll make it through the day. Most chickens go into such a state of shock that their system quits functioning. Besides it looks like she’s lost her eyes. She’ll probably be blind. Might be best to put her out of her misery.” These were the thoughts that were bouncing around my overactive brain. All I said was: “Well, what do you think, Miranda.”

Miranda: “She’s still breathing. And look! One of her eyes is opening.”

To make a long story short Miranda nursed our one-eyed Darwin back to health.

Sometimes surviving a trauma of that caliber transforms an animal into something special. We don’t know if it was the raccoon attack or genetics but Darwin was a unique chicken, a step above the rest in intelligence and personality. Although she was blind in one eye and a bit scrawny she flew out of her yard so regularly to hunt for insects in our garden that we had to increase the height of the fence from 6 to 9 feet. When she was still discovered outside scratching in the soft dirt, we had to remove an old ladder that was leaning on the fence. Evidently she had used this for an escape route - climbing upon it to get the necessary elevation.

Although this last solution saved our garden, Darwin still managed to get up into the surrounding trees to roost at night. This would have been no problem except for the ever-present threat from the raccoons. To protect the chickens from any more of these assaults every evening we locked them in their coop for the night. With Darwin roosting in the trees it became mandatory to get down into the chicken yard before she put herself to bed – high in the branches of the trees. She was so still and camouflaged that she was lost to our sight. Plus it was next to impossible to get her down, even if we discovered her. So Darwin’s intelligence and personality also made her what would be called a difficult chicken.

One other feature of Darwin that made her unique was her capacity for setting. Every spring a few of the chickens would begin setting on the nest hoping to hatch an egg or two to further the species. Most chickens would get distracted after getting thrown off the nest a few times and go back to scratching and pecking for bugs and whatever other delicacies might be contained in the ground. Not Darwin. She would stay on the nest for months – hoping to hatch a chick or two – no matter what measures we took. Not only that but she viciously attacked us with her sharp beak if we attempted to retrieve the non-fertile eggs from underneath her warm down. My wife eventually resorted to wearing work gloves to recover these eggs without injury. I just approached her from her blind side. Anyway this is where our story really starts.

It was one more spring and two chickens, including Darwin, of course, were setting again.

“Stupid chickens,” I thought to myself, “Setting on their nests again; thinking they’re going to hatch some eggs – even though there is no rooster around to fertilize the eggs. I mean what do they thing is going to happen? Immaculate Conception. Ha. Ha. Stupid chickens – so dominated by instinct. They’ve mistaken the form for the function. They think that if they sit on the eggs that they will hatch. Not realizing that the eggs need to be fertilized first. But look at how intent they are. I wonder how long they will continue setting before they give up. Darwin - probably for months. I guess I’d better throw them off the nest before they starve themselves to death. But it’s getting so tiresome – throwing them off every few days.

Yet look at how intent they are – so concentrated – Just thinking about their eggs – never forgetting. Always remembering. No matter what’s happening around them. Lost in their devotion to fertility. I remember Master Ni said that is how devoted we must be to Awareness – never forgetting like a setting hen. But there stupid chickens lack any foundation. Maybe it’s like pursuing self-realization without mediation. But look how devoted they are - never losing focus for even an instant.

Maybe that’s the point - just concentrating so hard on your desires that your Awareness crystallizes on a higher plane – Or maybe it turns your dreams into a Reality. But that will never happen for them without a rooster. Silly birds. So stupid in some ways – so incredibly driven by instinct that they don’t realize that their eggs aren’t fertile. But look how intent they are – almost ferocious in their devotion. Hissing at me when I approach in anyway. Like in a trance when I throw them off the nest. Their feather ruffled up an expanded. They peck for some food haphazardly, drink some water, and then right back on the nest – waiting for another egg to be laid – upon which they can set and set – hoping for it to hatch.

If they had a fertile egg it would only take 21 days. But it seems that they’ve been setting for months. Stupid chickens - But they are so intense. Concentrate like a setting hen – Never forget – Master Ni. Hmmm?”

So this process continued springtime after springtime for years. Of course Darwin was the most persistent setter - always the longest, most intense and hardest to break her trance. We went through the same process every spring for years. Let’s see what was going on inside the minds of our chickens.

“I can’t believe that Darwin – always setting every year with no chicks to show for it.”

“Yeah. What a waste of time.”

“Totally. She could be having fun - pecking and scratching with the rest of us.”

“Instead she’s so obsessed with her quest for chicks that she just keeps setting and setting. What fun could that be?”

“Oh look. Here comes that human again to throw her off the nest.”

“I love watching how fluffed up she gets.”

“Stumbling around like she’s had too much to drink.”

“Then back to the nest.”

“Here she comes now.”

“Yo, Darwin. Give it up. You will never hatch any chicks. You sit there year after year with nothing to show for it.”

“What a waste of time. Why not join us for some pecking and scratching for bugs.”

“Maybe a little sunbathing in the afternoon light. Now that’s what I call living.”

“Sorry girls. I’m on a quest for chicks. Something that will live through time. I want to have something to show for my life.”

“Give it up, honey. You’re on a fool’s path.”

Darwin: “I have a feeling this could be the year.”

“What makes this year any different than the rest.”

Darwin: “I don’t know. But I can’t help myself. Why would the Universe give me this urge to nest if there wasn’t a reason?”

“Such the New Ager. There is no God – no purpose – no destiny. Just living.”

Darwin: “Perhaps I’m fooling myself. But I believe in the power of positive intent. If I believe hard enough I just know it will happen. That’s why I never give up.”

“You can’t just wait. You need to make something happen.”

Darwin: “Wrong. I’m practicing wu-wei - non-action in the midst of action. Because of the intensity of my concentration something will come of my setting – naturally. Just you wait and see. Now back to the nest. You are distracting me from my Mission.”

“Let’s get back to scratching and pecking, girls. I can see she will never listen to reason.” – “Her with her stupid quest.” – “An obvious waste of time.” – “Evidently she thinks she’s better than us – isolating herself like that.” – “Who cares? We’re having fun and she’s stuck on that boring nest all day.”


Back to me.

“Stupid birds. Won’t they ever learn? So driven by instinct. But look how intense they are. Maybe I should get them some fertile eggs to hatch. Yeah. Why don’t I give them a treat this time? Besides lost a few chickens last year - one to raccoons and then another was pecked her to death by the other hens because she started limping for some reason. Amazing how that Darwin survived a raccoon attack and is still going strong. And always setting. Every year. I wonder what keeps her going? Yeah maybe I should give them some eggs.”

I called up the feed store: “Do you have any fertile eggs? - No. Just chicks. –Uh, well …? I guess that will do.”

At the feed store: “We have some setting hens. I came for some chicks to place under them – give them a treat. What’s the best way?”

“Put them in at night when they’re sleeping and they’re more likely to accept and care for them?”

After choosing 6 chicks I waited for night and then cautiously, as if I were Santa Claus putting presents under the Christmas tree, I placed three chicks each under my two setting hens. However the chicks all scampered under Darwin - presumably because they had already bonded at the feed store and wanted to be together.

Darwin immediately perked up – as if a light bulb went on in her brain. She instantly began nurturing her new brood – first tucking them in under her toasty down feathers for the evening.



And then in the morning she led them proudly off the nest to teach them to scratch for bugs and seeds.


Of course she would also cluck to call them together when she found something good to eat or when it was suppertime.


She would even fluff up her feathers to protect them from a perceived attack from a human or even the other hens. (The setting chicken, who had lost out to Darwin, was especially vicious.) In short she was an adoring mother – combining love and discipline to raise her brood of 6 chicks.

At first I was amused by what had happened – still thinking them stupid chickens. But then I realized that Darwin’s pure intent had motivated and moved me – just as if I were her hand. Practicing wu-wei she had used her mind intent to alter reality.

Darwin: “See I told you it would happen. If you believe anything strongly enough it is sure to come about. The power of positive thinking combined with persistence. Intensify your personal gravity and wu-wei will take care of the rest.”

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