Life With Chickens: Houston, We Have Lift-off

Slow Road Home Cover Image

She perched,  momentarily, poised between the unknown of a new captivity below and the wide-open unknown darkening in the hostile world beyond the walls that held her.

She considered, as carefully as a fowl’s feeble brain is capable, the options before her, less than a day in a strange land with strange fellow captives.

She considered. And she leapt into the Great Void, into the dark, a Free Bird….and am sure that as she enjoyed those five giddy airborne seconds, she sang…(High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.)

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds…and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of…wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space…
…put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

She was then most likely eaten by a coyote.

We brought home three new hens yesterday. Who knew they would be the first hens we’ve held inside the six-foot-high chain link enclosure that knew they could fly, and did so.

Two were found perched at eye-level indecisively at dusk, one facing out, the other in; the third–the particular one I had picked out because she was the same breed as my chicken-buddy, Dione–is unlikely to be seen again in this world, having found the sanctity of space, forever. Sorry Dione-Two, we might have hunted pill bugs together.

Meanwhile, we’ve done unspeakably unattractive things–the kinds of chicken coopery you see in the most stereotyped movies of Appalachian dirt-and-egg farmers, to cover over the open space over the 8 x 16 enclosure. To our neighbors, I apologize. It was the path of least resistance and quickest route to coffee this early morning.

Herself says it’s just temporary. Can’t be temporary enough for me. You might have noticed from my hundred photos of the old structure that I rather liked the lines of the Goose Creek Slow Road barn better–BC. Before chickens.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred, you made me laugh this morning though I DO feel so sorry for your chicken. There are fairly recent studies that show chickens are far more intelligent than we give them credit, so maybe she thought a stab at freedom was WORTH the risk. She could not know how great life would be with you and Ann!

  2. My Rhode Island Reds fly pretty well, the larger black sex-linked females not so much. They don’t get a lot of altitude but they can cover a pretty good distance. Periodically I don’t let them out–like when I know the raccoon or the fox is around. They don’t like that at all and have developed various strategies–such as rushing the pen door–to evade my attempts to keep them in. I have a big Rhode Island Red rooster, and I do think he helps to minimize predation. He keeps a lookout all the time.

  3. I love the lines of the barn BC, too. It features in lots of my favorite photos. But my best friend, Who has a big farm in middle Tennesseem adores raising chickens, so I suppose I can’t wish them away for you.