PUNGO — Their country cousins traveled to take a young man off to college, and so my wife and girls took on the task of keeping the animals going, walking the path from our home to theirs, where they found Hope.
She is a hen who has now traveled from a larger flock at the end of the path to our small flock at home. But we’ll come to that.
First they met. My wife gave water to animals in a paddock. The 12 year old tended the chicken house while the 10 year old cared for a pig. The 12 year old saw the chicken and thought something was wrong with her.
My wife later said the bird looked like a pile of itself. The hen hunkered there, head down, on the muddy ground. Another hen went after her, and they stepped in, separating the birds with water from the hose.
The 12 year old moved the sick bird to the grass outside a pen, away from the others, and they put the hen into an old dog crate. They gave her water. They made her a bed from a box top and shavings. The hen wouldn’t walk.
The 12 year old named her.
“Don’t get too attached,” my wife replied because she didn’t think the bird would last until her sister returned.
But Hope lasted. They moved the hen in and out of the barn, daily rituals, and they cared for this animal. And got too attached. When the trip was over, with one of the cousins delivered to the halls of academia, my wife asked whether we could have Hope.
A cousin drove the crate down the path on a four wheeler. Our two older daughters carried Hope to her new home. The 12 year old carried her until she got tired. Then the 10 year old took over for a bit. And another handoff. Amid this, they made lively discussion from the complexity of taking turns.
“She’s not yours,” the 10 year old reminded her sister. “She’s ours.”
“Because everything’s got to be a fight,” my wife noted later.
Our two older girls made a bed from an old litter box. We moved her cage in and out of the barn. We let her out with care, keeping her clear of our hens, finding shade and quiet.
Hope is a Rhode Island red.
I told the girls Hope also is the motto of Rhode Island, where I am from.
The 12 year old said she thought that was pretty funny, but she is a Virginian.
Saint Jude may smile down upon city folk caring for a hopeless hen, but, as of this writing, Hope is still with us. The girls have bathed her in case she is egg bound. It may be that Hope is just past laying.
Hope walks around a bit now. She comes to you, tries to climb into your lap when you sit near her in the yard. She seems to like being with the girls. One rode her bike with the hen in the basket. To them, this all makes sense.
“She probably would have died,” the 12 year old said.
“She was being attacked by the other chickens,” the 10 year old said.
“She’s really cuddly, and she lets me pet her,” the 12 year old said. “It’s adorable to watch her chase bugs.”
“I think the only reason she lets you pet her is because she can’t run,” the 10 year old said.
“We’re starting a senior center for chickens,” the 10 year old added.
Even the four year old is invested in the good work of her older sisters.
“I like her,” the four year old said of the bird. “Just because I don’t want her to die, and I think she’s cute.”
They are not hardened to it, but they are learning the purpose of farm animals, learning what cousins down the path know well. We have eaten the eggs, helped with turkey harvests, made soup of one of the roosters we went and named.
I worry about these lessons sometimes because lessons come with a cost. But our daughters have learned things I hadn’t anticipated. They may fight like hell over carrying a chicken down a path, but they band together when something is at stake.
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