Several years ago, our family was buzzing with the joys of spring after we witnessed the hatching of 7 chicks in our backyard hen patch. An 8th chick hatched a few days later thus allowing its siblings a decent head start, and soon it became obvious that amidst heavy competition for mom’s attention number 8 was failing to thrive. The longer it went without feeding the weaker it grew, and eventually the others inevitably began to act out the cruel laws of the jungle pecking the limp featherless weakling until she was bloodied and dying.
It was distressing to watch.
Having failed to induce any recovery by our hapless feeding attempts (how do you feed a limp blind 5cm long creature with a beak?) I was forced to face facts and decided to end the chicks suffering. With the kids at school I brought her away into the grass and retrieved the shovel figuring this was the fastest and most painless way to end her life.
Having barely moved in the nest since hatching, save for the odd attempt at waddling towards her mom, I couldn’t believe it when she lifted her head fully off the ground and looked square at me with her blind eyes. Did she somehow recognise in some primal sense that the shovel raised above my head was the reaper coming to visit, or was it a desperate attempt to look for mom amidst a heightened degree of separation anxiety?
I’ll never know but it was a surreal moment that imprinted itself on me in a way I still find hard to explain. The best I can offer about my experience is that we shared an undeniable moment of communication, or even bonding. I ‘felt’ her voice in my heart saying - “I want to live”.
It melted me, and a minute later she was back in the nest.
For reasons I’ll never understand, the other chicks never pecked her again and she thrived into a healthy hen who lived in our garden generously donating eggs to us for the next five years. Did her brush with death activate something in her? A sense of urgency, or the strength to fight? I don’t know.
She did meet her end one spring night when she became dinner for a local fox and her hungry cubs. At least it was a natural ending!
That moment reinforced in me the idea that if you have the courage to ask for help life can find a way despite the most overwhelming odds. No matter how desperate the situation or how bleak the outlook may feel, no matter how lost you might imagine yourself to be, there is always a way home…so long as you don’t give up!