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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: She needed a vacation

© Another Day in the Country

On Saturday, we called it a day for old Black Betty and her child-rearing possibilities. She’d been setting on eggs, in one way or another, since the first part of July, and this is well into September. “That’s it, old girl,” I said with a resigned sigh.

The first time I checked her eggs, after I’d figured she turned on the heat for incubation, there were eleven blue eggs (not hers) in her nest. By the time a month and a half went by without any chicks appearing, she was down to seven blue eggs — all looking pretty dirty and unseemly for the arrival of a hatch.

Saturday morning, I listened to her usual fussing at me for disrupting her solitude as I lifted her up off her eggs. “Where did you get these eggs, Betty?” I wanted to know because these were all nice, clean, scrubbed-up looking eggs.

During this last month, Dove, my little white almost-a-bantam hen, had stopped laying her easily identified blue eggs. “Aha,” and I fixed Betty with a steely eye, “You got rid of the old ones and let Dove do the work for new eggs? Another try? I don’t think so.” I shoo’d her off the nest and got rid of the eggs, cleaned things up, put down new hay.

I had to laugh because almost immediately Betty, the hen who had rarely moved from the nest in two and a half months, was off the nest and followed her bunk mates out into the yard, happily chasing grasshoppers. It was as if she was relieved of her duties. 

At lunch, I related the adventure to my sister, “Can you believe that old hen? All this time she has been stubbornly setting on those eggs. And then, when I removed them, she just walked off.”

“I can relate,” said Jess. Sometimes I feel like Betty, guarding a dream, hoping something hatches. Even if they aren’t my eggs, my hopes and aspirations, I’ll hover over those, too, just in case something comes of it.”

She went on to say that she could understand Betty just sitting there, sort of in a daze, week after week, dozing in the heat, checked out as life went on around her, not really counting the days or even wondering if these were “good” eggs or “bad,” because at least she was doing something — setting! It had become her niche, her job, and she prided herself in faithfulness.

“I feel like that sometimes right here in Ramona,” Jess said. “Look at how long I’ve been city clerk — almost as many years as we’ve lived in town — and why?” Well, I knew the answer. It’s the reason that anyone hangs in with a town, a school board, or a marriage, for that matter. You hang in there hoping that things will get better, that you can make a difference, that whatever you’ve worked for all these years isn’t just going to go down the drain. You want to know that your effort has been worthwhile.

And when do you just call it quits? I don’t even begin to know the answer to that question. Maybe that would be interesting table conversation over dinner or a cup of coffee. When has the old nest box just become too familiar and it’s time for a change of scenery?

Several weeks ago when Betty ventured off the nest for a few moments and out into the yard to stretch her legs, Cocky-lock, my wonderful rooster, took out after her and chased her back into the hen house, as if to say, “Get back in there! Your place is in the house.” But Saturday, after Betty had been fired from the hatchery, he welcomed her back to the flock as they picnicked on grasshopper kabobs and roasting ears.

I’ve listened to chicken chatter for so long that I’ve begun to think I can understand the intent of their conversation, like “Caution! There’s a hawk circling overhead,” or “Come quick, look what I found.” The chickens were pretty soft-spoken on Saturday. They mumbled to each other as they scratched under the apple tree. Betty was complaining (clucking) under her breath. Dove screeched once when the rest of the crew walked off and suddenly she found herself alone, “Where are you guys?” 

While I watched over them like a benevolent deity, they hunted, pecked, scratched, fluffed in the dust, and tumbled over the mulch in my garden — which I tolerate with grace, now that it’s fall. When evening came, they obediently went into the house. Someone commented on the fresh hay in the nest boxes. Cocky-lock checked it out. Nobody said a word to Betty, who now sat shoulder to shoulder with them on the perch. For them, as for all of us, it was just another day in the country.

Last modified Sept. 11, 2014

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