Hot Chicks and Cold Comfort, Part 3

When last we left our heroine, she was blindly and stupidly chasing after chicks through her Garden Paradise... Our chicks. Four girls, built of feathers and destruction. They were, according to the flock hierarchy:

Mimi, a Cuckoo Marans, a chick I bought on impulse after we unloaded poor Garbanzo. Somehow, I felt I just had to fill the void he left behind, though technically I was only allowed three chickens in the city limits without a special license.  Classic black and white styling with perfect comb and wattles, Mimi looked like a porcelain tchotske you would see in Granny's kitchen. Though a latecomer to the flock, she decided she was the head diva and let everyone know she was the one giving orders.

This came as a surprise to Lola, who had carved out her niche with some well-focused pecks on her inferiors. She was a Golden Laced Wyandotte, an impossibly beautiful breed of chicken, all black with copper lacing in her feathers; she was charming and lovely to behold. She was also haughty and marched to the beat of her own drummer, often ignoring Mimi completely. Their power struggle was comic and epic, Mimi leading the way to one part of the yard, expecting the troops to fall in line after her, Lola going the other way, trailed by Zuzu, her shadow and life-companion.

Ah, Zuzu, the Ameraucana. She was timid, shy and utterly without shame when it came to Lola worship. From the day I brought them home together, Zuzu was attached to Lola's flank like magnetism coursed through her. When I would pick up and cuddle Lola, Zuzu would keen and cry as though her life was ending. Completely docile as long as Lola was in her sight, she would panic and go into a squawking tantrum until Lola was returned to her. And while Mimi might have assumed an honorary position as head of household, there was no love like the love Zuzu had for Lola, and thus where Lola went, Zuzu followed.

This left our Cochin to round out the bottom. In any caste system, there will always be an untouchable, the whipping girl, Cinderella. Ours was Gigi, another stunning looking bird, but so far down the totem pole it was amazing she managed to get anything to eat. She was solid black with bottle green highlights down to her feet, covered with feathery mukluks. Her butt feathers were so voluminous they bounced like a crinoline as she ran after the other pullets, and she seemed to jog in romantic soft focus to keep up with the others.

Gigi was not bright. But she was my special girl, as I always, from the time I was tiny, took pity on the most hapless wrecks.

That she was hopelessly and irretrievably stuck at the bottom of the pecking order became clear as they got older and began to come in and out of the coop on their own. When I first moved them out to their permanent digs, I kept them locked up so they wouldn't stray too far. But as they matured impossibly fast, I began to realize that they needed a bit more independence. The little girls were growing up.

So I opened up their chicken door. The chicken door was a design of mine created in over-thinking chicken lifestyle needs: it was like a supermarket walk-in freezer contraption, but cut down to size for chickens. They would walk up their chicken ladder to the fringe I had cut from a rubber pond liner and enter their roosting house. The fringe would close up behind them, keeping in the warmth, keeping out the cold.

This was fine on paper; made perfect sense. But the fringe proved complicated for the tiny little nuggets of grey matter living in the skulls of my hens. Encouragingly, I picked them up one by one and pushed them through. I might have been pushing them into a plucker they feared it so. Shrinking back into my arms and squeezing their eyes shut, they would hold their chicken breath until they found themselves magically inside their roosting house. But where was the outside? How did they get here? They're little minds raced as their eyes searched in vain for the exit, which they knew was there having just come through it, but they couldn't find it as the fringe fell back to block the opening.

After a couple of weeks of patiently showing them the path to success, Lola and Mimi began to get it. They didn't like it, certainly, and would shut their eyes and turn their heads away as they ducked into the flaps, taking a leap of blind faith that there really was a there there on the other side. But they did it: awkwardly, grudgingly, bravely.

This would leave Zuzu and Gigi outside, having watched a door just swallow up half of their flock. Zuzu predictably would start to panic. A minute ago, Lola had been there; she had seen her with her own eyes! And then she was gone! Zuzu would fret and pace, squawk and mope. The light would be getting dimmer, the desperation more palpable. Finally, in an immense act of courage she would approach the door and peck aside the flaps. She could see Lola! She was there! And the door would swallow her up, too.

Gigi was left behind, alone to ponder her fate. She would cautiously walk up the chicken ladder to the door; this, she was sure, was where all the others went, right? Then she would walk back down the ladder to pace the floor of the coop, questioning all she had witnessed before. She was alone in her plight, the night creeping in, the door magically absorbing her fellow pullets like drops in the sea. Up the ladder again, looking straight at the flap, willing it to open before her. Back down.

This would continue for five, ten minutes, every night for at least a month. Up the ladder, peck tentatively at the flap, down the ladder to pace. Repeat. Finally, as dusk became too formidable to ignore, she would steel herself, march up the ladder with determination, and thrust herself breathlessly into the alternate dimensional vortex, a portal into god knows what horrible chickensian fate.

They were amusing but not companionable. They tolerated me, and certainly didn't fear me. They appreciated my proximity because I brought morsels: a handful of raisins, a bunch of sunflower seeds, some leftover pasta. To get a token of the chicken affection I felt I deserved after such largesse, I would chase them around gracelessly until I caught one and held on to her with an iron grip while giving her a scritch under the chin or behind a wing. They would scrunch up into a tight ball, waiting impatiently for me to finish, and when I would set them down, they would fluff up their feathers as if shaking off my intolerable humanness and flee back to the company of the flock.

I was still gardening avidly, and we would share the garden, the girls and I. They would scratch up some dirt, I would return it to its bed and tuck it in around the exposed roots of my beautiful plants. They would follow me from one area to the next, hoping I would turn over some soil to expose tasty worms. We would cross each others' paths, and I would trip over them as they waited impatiently for me to get away from their prime scratching zone.

But I began to notice Mimi's opinion of my inferior humanity softening a bit. It seemed as though sometimes she anticipated me, even enjoyed my company. Sometimes I would cross the yard and she would huddle down and wait for me. Just like a sweet pet, like a domesticated dog expectantly awaits its owner. She would crouch, nervously jiggling as I approached, waiting for her human, her friend.

I would reach down and give her a nice scratch on the back, a pat behind the wings, and she would regain her senses and shake me off again. But it was enough, it was my chicken dream come to life. She liked me! She wanted my company! I was smitten, completely enamored with her returned affection. I had worked for it, God knows.

And she began shunning the company of the other girls in fits of pique. She would disappear for an hour and appear again, cross and surly. Peck the others in a grumpy show of hostility. Then disappear. And reappear, even grumpier.

I began to get truly alarmed when her magisterial countenance faded and she seemed shaken, nervous, miserable. She would follow me around the yard and start squawking and disappear again. She didn't want to be with the others, and she seemed to think I could help, but I didn't know what was wrong with her. How do you identify an illness in a bird? Was she injured? I read what I could about chicken health, but didn't know what I was looking for; was she dying on my watch, just when we were becoming friends?

It had been so long that we had been anticipating eggs it hadn't occurred to me that she was getting ready to lay. In a case of tipping dominoes, it became clear all the sudden: Mimi had absolutely no idea what to do. She was grumpy and weird because she couldn't figure out where the hell to go, what was so uncomfortable, and why she was feeling a bit...off. There was no other hen to show her the way. I was it.

In a moment of clarity I also realized why she had been tolerating my company: there was no rooster, either. She was, against her better judgment, nervously anticipating some sort of assault on her chickenness, offering herself to me, like a virgin bride to her confused, absolutely clueless betrothed. She would crouch in acceptance, and when I was done with my business, in my case patting her on the back, she would shake me off with a shudder.

I didn't know whether to be flattered or offended.

But I did take pity on her and her egg conundrum. I carried her into the coop and introduced her to the hastily constructed nest box I cobbled together once I cottoned on to what she was freaking out about. It took me long enough. I placed a nice amount of straw in there, sheltered with what seemed a proper level of privacy and propriety for a pullet coming into her own. She balked, ducking in and out of the box indecisively, but having nowhere else that cut muster, she eventually stayed put.

Hours later, we heard a great chicken hullabaloo rise from the coop. A victory cry, Mimi shouting to all who would listen that she had risen against her trials and vanquished them with one mighty blow. She had laid her first egg, tiny, slightly misshapen, but whole and hers. She was the conquering hero returning to her troops, though they didn't give a fig.

What did they know, anyway?

To be continued...