Lessons from a chicken

Photo@sarahhalliday

Growing up in the 80’s, most of my after-school time, weekends and holidays were spent outdoors. My only maternal sibling who I grew up with was eight years my senior and bore no obligation to spend time with the little sister who hadn’t been born a boy – like him. Anyway, no pity is required. I always felt quite content with my cats, the tadpoles in the little stream that ran by my parent’s house, the chickens my father reared and of course, my imaginary friends.

The chickens roamed free around the property. Yes, cock-a-doodle-doo at 5:30 a.m was a real life thing in my early years. I can’t claim to have had deep affections for the chickens. They weren’t given names or had birthdays or anything like that. We ate their eggs and I am guessing the ones who disappeared from time to time never really ran away. Anyway, there was an incident with one of them which to this day, remains a symbolic event, and one with so many lessons from which to draw.

I couldn’t have been more than nine. One hen had become a mother to these adorable chicks. I wanted to play with them, but the hen got all agro on me. So I decided since I owned her, I would teach her a lesson. Now, please forgive me for what I am about to confess. This was 1989. Plastic pollution and animal welfare were not topical issues. I did not know any better. So yes, I threw these small stones at her and her babies to really rattle her. The initial plan was to do it just once to establish dominance, but the adrenaline rush I got from that chase, well, I had to go back for more.

For around two weeks in 1989, I played this game with this chicken. I would throw stones at her and she would chase me. Anyone who has been warned off or chased by a Mrs mother hen, know that it’s not for the faint hearted. They are menacing and right out frightening. You are literally running for your life. What made the rush much sweeter for me, was that I had an advantage over her. The chase would end at the doorstep of my parent’s kitchen. It’s almost like the chicken and I had an understanding – the house was off-limits to her. Of course we never shook hands on it or anything like that but as the days progressed, it was clear that this was my safety zone. If she ever got too close or I got tired, a quick turnaround to the kitchen door would end the chase and I would walk away with all the glory and her, well, with the shame.

I am not sure how long I thought this game would last. But something happened around two weeks after our fun had started that well, abruptly ended it. The chase had started like the other ones before. There was nothing out of the ordinary. At some point, as I always did, I felt uneasy about her speed and ran to my safety zone. I still remember turning around to look at her as I crossed the line between ‘outside and kitchen’ and realised she was not slowing down. I panicked and picked up my pace again and ran into the house. The chicken followed me, angrier than she had ever been. I was screaming at this point. Poignant, legit fear rattled my little body as my survival senses told me to run to my room. I made it just in time. She had actually followed me all the way to my bedroom.

And that was the last time I fucked with that chicken.

I have told this story many times. Yes, it is downright hilarious. But, in the past few years I have come to realise something about that chicken. She got fed up with the human bully and in the end, to make things right, to stand up for herself she had to do something different, cross the line (quite literally) and break the rules so that she could effect the change that was required to keep herself and her babies safe.

To change the course of anything requires bold and daring actions. I know it sounds comical, but I have so much respect for that chicken. A lesson I will never forget.

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