We know there’s been another hatching in the henhouse by the surprisingly high-pitched and loud voice of the new chicks.
“Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep!” It carries far, and is distinct from any other sound. You can hear it all the way out in the driveway when they are first born, cutting right through even the blare of the pintades.
They are incessant and exceedingly clear: I am alive. I am hungry. Mama, I am right here!
I can imagine in the wild such a homing signal would pose a serious liability to tender bite-size newborns, but chez nous it just means that we provider Homo sapiens, temporarily imbued with responsibilities more usualy left to the Divine, set out a tray of chick-starter food and a shallow dish of water that the clumsy little bumbling newcomers can’t drown in, even if they fall in.
The mother hen seems relieved to have sustenance so handy, cutting her responsibilities down from fight for survival to demonstration only, and the cycle of life goes on.
There was such a shrill initial “Peep! Peep! Peep!” two days ago coming from the poulailler, but this morning when it should have died down to pecking and scratching, it seemed instead even more pronounced than at first. I went in to investigate, and there was one of the tiny lives unable to move in the nest, while the others were taking a lesson in scratching and pecking from mother hen far across the room.
The chick was in trouble, unable to stand up. It’s head and limbs all moved vigorously when I picked it up, but it could not walk. It still had a lot to say, however, and was Peeping its head off, flailing helplessly in the hay.
I took that sopranino voice as a sign of hot willful life still firey within. So I hand fed and watered it, moved it inside to a heat-lamp box, and continued to administer food and water through the morning, hoping it would recover.
It did not. A few hours later the strident “Peep! Peep!” went silent. And shortly afterward, it was dead.
Who knows what was wrong. Chickens are lizards, after all. They have many young and are hard on them. Not many have to survive, and the rest expire of dysentery, or by being stepped on by the grownups, led through wet grass to die of cold, drowning in a puddle, or getting gobbled down by something preceding a Homo sapiens to the kill, a predator which has heard the urgent Peep! announcement that a succulent morsel of meat has been set newly afoot on the earth.
Most chicks never even hatch from the eggs in the first place. The majority never make it past embryo stage and never breath air nor see the light of day.
But even when you are ranching those cannibalizing, insensitive, dimwitted chicken-lizards to kill and eat yourself, there is just something pitiful about a tiny creature that wants to live but cannot.
He/she made it out of the egg for two days in the sun. And then life came untimely to an end. Can we call that lucky? Is it just that random who gets to come and go in this world, and when?
I have been reading more than the usual amount of self-help this week online. I realize that I don’t want to die with every one of the character flaws I still have. As long as I can raise my head and eat and drink and ambulate, there is still opportunity – nay, imperative – for self-improvement.
I buried the little chick near where it was born, just outside the back door of the poulailler. I did so despite knowing how ridiculous it is for a 45 year old man to take time out of his day to take up a shovel and bury anything smaller than a golf ball.
But it was not for the chick or the earth that I buried it. It was for me, to honor life – my own and others bound closely with mine. It was my “Peep! Peep!” for the day, the demonstrative voice of life against death, an infectious voice carrying over in me of a chick that was silenced and would not Peep again.