“Don’t let them get away,” I cautioned as I walked back to the car.
Adrian squatted by the box on our back porch, looking at the two nine-week-old chicks while Evangeline stood by, chattering excitedly.
By the time I returned with the other box of chicks, Adrian’s charges were perched on the edge of the box. I approached slowly, hoping to urge them back inside. With frightened squawks and a flourish of wings, they escaped into the yard. I took a lesson from my mistake and carefully placed the other two chicks into their pen before attempting to recover the escapees. Unfortunately, the little chickens fearfully darted about as we chased them.
Hot and sweaty from our pursuit, Adrian and I finally scared one of the chicks into the our enclosed chicken yard. I didn’t think she would easily get out again, so I turned my attention to her sister. But our feeble attempts to frighten her towards the yard only pushed her further away, into the wooded area separating our property from the neighbor’s.
I sighed, put my hands on my hips. She’ll probably head back toward the other chicks if I leave her alone, I thought. Won’t she?
Adrian and I went into the chicken yard, closing the gate behind us. He walked around the back of the chicken house, into briers and brambles.
“Let’s try to scare her out this way,” I said.
I picked up a branch and threw it into the woods on the other side of the chicken house. The second one I heaved hit its mark, landing just beyond the chick. She skittered around the henhouse towards me. I rushed at her and she cowered into a corner as I quickly, but gently, put my hands around her delicate body.
I thought of how we run, sometimes. Uncomprehending. Disoriented. Paralyzed by fear of the one thing that can save us.
“Three down, one to go,” I breathed, as I set the rogue chick in the pen with her sisters.
I walked over the tumble-down stone wall onto our neighbor’s land. Ferns stretched out over the woods floor, just high enough to cover a wayward chicken. Adrian and Eva struggled to follow me over the wall. Adrian got stuck in a “picker bush” and lost his shoe. Eva picked it up and refused to surrender it to him.
The caterwauling was more than I could take. I ordered them back to our yard.
“You can help Mommy by playing with Eva,” I told Adrian. “Just stay in our yard. I need to listen for the chick and I can’t hear anything with the two of you in the woods.”
They obeyed, watching me. Wishing they could be in the thick of the chase.
I stood quietly, listening. A squirrel bounded up a tree. The ferns swayed in the wind. I carefully picked my way along the wall, deeper into the woods. If I were a chick, where would I go? I stood still again, listening.
Nothing. No quiet chirping. No crunching of dead leaves. Silence. Every way I looked, the woods were still. Alive with tiny wildlife, but no black chick strutting through. Where could she be? Had she been so frightened by my recovery of her sister that I’d unwittingly driven her deep into the woods? I felt a sudden sense of hopelessness. She had no chance out there. She was lost. And tonight she’d become fox food—or worse. There was no end to the predators that would like to make a meal of her. I almost sighed in resignation. At least we had three chicks. I should have taken a few extra. We were bound to lose a couple, anyway.
Adrian’s voice drifted to me from the edge of the yard. “Mommy, I just prayed that the chick would come back.”
“That’s good, buddy,” I said.
Then a still, small voice in my heart. “Go out of the woods and pray with your son. Pray that you’ll find the chick.”
I began walking back to our yard, walking towards Adrian, where he stood dappled by the sunlight falling through the trees.
Then. Movement in the undergrowth. Out strutted the little black chicken, right in front of me. She led the way into our yard.
The answer isn’t always so clear and direct, is it? And the answer isn’t always a resounding “Yes!”
But that day it was and the purpose was clear. After we chased her, cornered her, put her gently in the pen where she’d be safe. It came to me like a song I used to know. Many years ago . . .