Chooks I Have Loved and Lost

I take it back, Spring has not been gentle this year after all. She has returned to her usual harsh Australian beauty and horror.

This morning I heard the doleful chirping of our lone teenage chicken, voice just on the cusp of breaking. I smiled to myself and wasn’t too perturbed that Mumma Chooka’s reassuring clucks were not to be heard – they’ve been taking some breaks from each other lately, as he/she (still not sure which) starts the journey towards adulthood. Oh I pray he/she makes it!!! And lives a long life of chookish adventure, beyond the loneliness he/she’s in today …

Because it seems that in a tiny window of time this morning sometime between 6 am and 6.30 am … Mumma Chooka was stolen from us. My mother saw them both together around 6 and then later as she went for an early walk, she noticed a small, suspicious bunch of downy breast feathers and a solitary black wing feather. She shrugged it off, thinking surely nothing could have happened in that short time … but it seems something did, as she has not re-appeared. Perhaps a fox or a cat took her, perhaps to a litter of young somewhere in the overgrown, weedy paddock next door. She was a fiercely protective mother … she probably threw herself in front of her last remaining child (the other was taken by a carpet snake a couple of weeks before). Waaaaa!!!! No fair! Life is not fair. Parents, tell your children. Tell yourselves. It is not fair. Well, so it seems to those of us who love, in the moments of our grief.

I have just collected those feathers that were left us, and placed them in the shrine of Jess, beloved chook-friend of my heart, who taught me the deep person-hood of chooks in a profound way I had never known until I knew her. I found Jess collapsed, paralysed and on the edge of death one rainy day a few years ago. I brought her into my home in a box and nursed her, thinking she would likely die that night, but at least she would die knowing she was cared for. She did not die. She got better and better, slowly, slowly, each day. I helped her do yoga stretches, and I dusted her feathers for mites and helped her preen the ones she couldn’t reach. I fed her interesting concoctions advised by wise friends. When she got to the point when she could stroll around my house and jump up onto the couch along with the dog, I knew she was better and it was time to get her a place of her own.

jess and colin

Jess had one friend, Ruby. Ruby was also deeply special to me, the last remaining chook of those I had brought with me from my prior home. Ruby was always friendly with humans, unlike the other chooks in the flock here at Whian Whian – she was accustomed to living close with us back in Dorroughby. She had a way of meeting your eye, and just hanging nearby in a companionable way, that reminded me of another chook I loved once – Wanda … sigh. Wanda was from an even earlier incarnation of mine, further down Dorroughby Rd, when I was still with my son’s dad. She was ginger and a rebel feminist icon to me when I really needed one in my early lost years of motherhood. She was the only chook who could not be contained, who always found a way out of the pen, and who preferred her own company over that of the flock. She could not abide the rooster but she occasionally tried to show a young chook the ropes of independent living. She would come inside our house each day and lay an egg under the pot belly stove. One day we startled her and she ran out, leaping over my son Tarn as he lay helpless and not-crawling-yet on a blanket on the floor. She left one long shallow scratch across his cheek. One day I came home to find her missing. I asked my partner and he said he had lost it, thrown a brick at her when she was once again in the vegie patch, and accidentally killed her. I was devastated, and I hated him for it. It still breaks my heart to think of her.

my sister Jane's painting of Ruby and her Dorroughby friends

my sister Jane’s painting of Ruby and her Dorroughby friends

And of Ruby, who died of some sort of cancerous growth in her beak, which I tried belatedly to treat with white poincettia sap and I still think if I’d got onto it sooner I could’ve saved her. Jess died about half a year or so later, partly of a broken heart, missing Ruby who had become such a dear companion to her.

They both taught me how to hang out with chooks. You have to preen if you want to hang out peacefully with another chook. If you start preening, this is a sign of trust – that you are willing to let down your guard with this chook/being. And very close chook friends will preen each other, which is what Ruby and Jess would often do.

This morning I sat with the teenage ChickenChookun (he/she will get another name eventually … I hope) and scratched my head companionably. He/she was a little nervous at first but gradually began to preen, too, and then even lay down and had a little sunbath. Poor little ‘orphan’. I remember sitting by this one and its sibling only weeks ago, when they were brand new, and feeling the miracle of their innocence, the way that this place, this small place in the vastness of the world, was all that they knew, and it was good. They had each other, and a fierce, loving mum. They heard their dad crow with the rising sun each morning. There was plenty of food and water and interesting things to do. And there was safe shelter. I  thought, these ones will make it through this year, with luck.

Spring is not all soft green and bright flowers. Spring can be a hard bitch of a time, especially here. Now the heat has hit, with every day this week in the high thirties and the sun blasting and crisping the tender green shoots and soft baby leaves. Will it rain tonight? It hasn’t all week and we need it. Will MummaChooka come home? I doubt it.

The Shrine of Jess, and now Mumma Chooka, too

The Shrine of Jess, and now Mumma Chooka, too

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