Do you ever wonder what drives animals to do what they do? Or wonder if and what they are thinking? Here on the farm, chickens reign. Chickens are complex, fascinating and gregarious creatures. They hang out together in the coop, under the coop, out in the tall grass. The group will often, at the behest of the rooster or one of the hens, suddenly take off running toward a definite destination and clearly with great purpose, but for reasons not obvious to humans – at least not to this human. Maybe they sense an insect convocation somewhere up the hill; or maybe the time of day, the scent on the wind, the position of the sun calls them to a certain spot. Sometimes they run off together to hang out in collusion under a tree, possibly planning for . . . . . do chickens plan? Do they have issues that they have to work out among themselves?
Despite their gregariousness there is, occasionally, almost predictably, a lone chicken who goes off to live her own sovereign life: to roost and sleep and lay her eggs out in the field, or in the greenhouse, or under a pine tree, instead of hanging out with the group at the coop. Against great dangers she goes because there is an abundance of predators out there who feast on chickens: hawks, raccoons, foxes, big cats. Just this November Nate, the farmer, found at various locations in the field, the remains of four noble younger hens who had been living independent of the coop. These rebels would all have their independence despite the dangers.
Recently one has taken to laying eggs under a huge Blue Spruce tree quite a ways from the coop, not far from the road. It is winter. Cold. Temperatures hover around 6 degrees. We have at least a foot of snow. Nate found the autonomous hen under the Spruce one day, sitting on her eggs, so cold that she could hardly move. He carried her back to the coop. But next day she goes back to the tree. I watched her yesterday returning from her hideaway under the spruce walking toward the coop. She moved through the snow like a monk in meditation. One foot at a time, with boundless patience and determination, she would place one in front of the other. Occasionally she would fall into a snow drift and stop. Then, after a momentary pause in her journey, flap her wings and go on moving, dignified, proud.
The distance from the spruce to the coop is probably around 300’. That’s a long way for a relatively small critter to go so ponderously through snow and in such frigid weather. Remember? Six degrees. I marvel at what spirit, what passion or calling possesses her to choose the road less travelled while the group in the coop remains in warmth, camaraderie and in evident contentment. Animals are complex creatures. Is this one called to a contemplative life? Or maybe, more adventurously, she has dreams of starting her own roadside egg stand some day? What is she thinking? What goes on in the minds of animals?