Hot Chicks and Cold Comfort, Part 4

Our protagonist discovers that since the flock is absent a real rooster, she has become its proxy... The flock was coming into maturity. They were almost full size at five months, so their enormous feet were at their maximum earth-moving capacity. Their feathers had completely grown in, and they looked nothing like either the scraggly vultures of April, or the tiny fluffy popcorn of March. Their combs were pert and red, a sign of egg-laying maturity. They were massive; eight pounds each of avian destruction and egg production come to full flower.

Soon the yard was full of grumpy hens who's desire to ignore their human dispensary unless bearing edible offerings came into direct conflict with their urge to crouch before me, offering up their virginity to the only thing that seemed slightly more dominant than Mimi.

In this conflict they were as confused as me. I would walk up behind Lola on my way to tuck in a plant, and she would start to flee my approach, but then drop as if stuck on fly paper. She would cling to the ground, huddling there completely against her will, her head waving back and forth looking for an exit to the trap of her own biology. I could feel the tension in her: she would shake nervously, expectantly, with nothing but base instinct keeping her stuck in place. But that instinct proved too powerful for her to resist and she would stay there until I either stepped over her or gave her a pat on the butt. Then, as always, she would shake herself off, hoping to remove all traces of the nightmare and move on to scratch up more dirt.

Initially horrified at my new status, I came to realize that I could use it to my advantage. Since they could neither resist their own nature nor my advances, I could simply reach down and grab them. I would scoop up whichever chicken would kneel before me and sit down with her captive on my lap and give her an annoying cuddle, completely against her will. She would have to sit there, imprisoned by her inescapable nature and her much inferior human host. Who was boss now, chickens?

And they began to lay their eggs, with greater or lesser success. The uneasy co-leaders Mimi and Lola seemed to get it figured out pretty quickly; Lola, once she began mimieggieto feel the strange urges began to follow Mimi's lead into the nest box. Two hens now raised the hue and cry: "Will you look at this? I made it myself; ME!" in classic chicken-ese, the quintessential Warner Brothers cluck: "Bawk bawk bawk bawk....Be-GOK!"

Gigi, low man on the pole, was a more complicated case. Perhaps her terror of incoming pecks made her reluctant to follow the girls into the nesting area. Maybe her dopiness reached into all areas of her chickenness and she couldn't piece together what the others might show her. Regardless, Gigi turned egg-laying into a scavenger hunt; we'd find an egg in the middle of the yard, baking in the hot summer sun. She would drop one behind her while scratching up my shrubs, looking momentarily surprised and then move on as though nothing had happened. I would find them in the roosting house, broken underneath the roost bar, dropped there like a hapless Humpty Dumpty in a pile of wood shavings and bird guano.

My superiority was confined to their lack of rooster, however. In all other areas, they remained supreme mistresses of the garden, and I scrambled to keep what was once so nurtured intact.

Several years of work were being dismantled before my eyes. Their talons were much more efficient than my rather useless trowels and rakes. And their quest for bugs was less menacing than their curiosity about every plant in the yard. Tiny holes showed up on almost all my leaves, not from slugs, but directed beaks which were testing the edibility of said leaves. Or maybe they were just bored.

So I began to reshape the yard around them. The shade garden became a field of bamboo stakes which I hoped they couldn't navigate, although it looked like a very tiny Vlad the Impaler had been there, mounting the heads of his enemies. This may have proved more terrifying to the hens, as the stakes just became a slight nuisance as they gracelessly stumbled their way between them to eat the anemones. Sometimes the stakes had the opposite effect I had intended; Gigi would find her way past the criss-crossed obstacles but be unable to think her way back out.

My idyll fantasies were meeting a firm reality: hens were, exactly as Monty Don had described, mighty destroyers of gardens. I began to call Mimi and Lola, who seemed particularly bent on mischief, Shiva and Kali. They were so unimpressed by the humans who kept them they would walk into the house or the studio if we had forgotten to close the door against the hot summer days, pooping guano of a size unimaginable from any bird. Oh, I had manure all right, Monty. Thanks a lot.

Guests would ask how the cats dealt with the chickens; I had to assure them that the chickens dealt just fine with the cats; after all, they were armed with beaks, huge wingspans, talons and fearlessness. We would sit at the dining table and watch out the back door as a cat would flee from screeching Mimi, followed quickly by Lola, Zuzu and Gigi bringing up the rear, crinoline bouncing in the summer sun. The chickens were just fine; the cats' superiority complex was brought down a notch by sheer avian audacity.

The mighty rulers of the yard needed to be reined in a little, that much was clear. I hastily constructed a fence out of chicken wire and 1 x 2's which I set up around the coop. Too wily for a little fence, they hopped on top and sat there, mocking me. So I extended more chicken wire, this time with no framework to prop up their bulk. Accustomed to complete freedom they paced and bitched at me, or anyone who happened to walk by.

A full third of the yard looked like scorched earth; the grass scratched to the root, the plants destroyed. With chicken wire strung through the yard in a haphazard way, it was beginning to look a bit like a dirt plantation: I was becoming the hick hippies I made fun of. All I needed was to throw old appliances back there, and my life as a redneck stereotype was complete.

Next...conclusion?