I have never had a stroke or heart attack, but I think I know what it would feel like, thanks to Dottie and Gert, who flew the coop this weekend. It started out like a normal day: get up, let the hens out, clean out the evening’s accumulation of crap in the coop, refresh water containers in the run, and then go about my business while they all forage for bugs in the yard. I trimmed pottery in the garage while fighting off hordes of blood-thirsty mosquitos, attempted to resuscitate my burned-stalk vegetable seedlings in the garden, and headed inside to vacuum and shower before a highly anticipated afternoon nap while storms brewed on the horizon.
As is my habit, I continually peered out my back windows to be sure all was well in chicken-land. And just before plugging in the vac for a 20-minute session of sucking up elephant-sized dust bunnies, I peeked out in the backyard once more to get a beak count. Three. Hm. Normally the babies are at least nearby the big gals, even if they’re not blending up a fresh pitcher of margaritas together and discussing today’s church sermon. But the littles were nowhere to be found. There was a momentary whisper in my head–“they’re fine; get your vacuuming done and then go roust up the flock later”–from the little devil that occasionally offers up unsolicited advice, immediately countered by the logical “go check them–better to be safe than sorry” advice that usually wins out, and so I went outside.
Normally, my appearances outside are greeted by a full-on charge of five feathered bodies galloping across the grassy yard toward my outstretched hand full of grapes or other treats. This time, only three fluffs came at me. I wandered around the yard looking for whatever dirt-bath holes might be cradling my two otherwise-engaged young-ins, ready to gently scold them for not coming out with the other gals. No babies. Peeked under the house in the shady crawl space under my kitchen that keeps them all cool so many hot afternoons–no babies there. Mild worry started to creep into my head like a slow-spreading stain. Checked behind the garage where the flock can sometimes be seen digging up dried cakes of leaves for worms and lizards–no babies.
So I called them. And heard them! Little muffled grunts and clucks like I normally hear, but NOT coming from my yard. From behind the fence. They were OUT. Somehow they’d gotten into the neighbor’s yard behind mine. An unkempt rental with tarp-covered junk and standing water that was probably the main source of the neighborhood’s mosquito infestation. And the home of a very large dog. Who, thankfully, didn’t seem to be outside at the moment.
You know those moments when you have a close call in your car or you almost trip on a step but recover, when an electric shock jolts your body from the inside out and you get goosebumps on your arms and the hair stands up on your neck? Yup: that.
I went to the only section of the fence that I knew to have a small chunk missing in the bottom–maybe they had crawled out through there? But no, the missing chunk was barely the size of a dollar bill. They couldn’t fit through there. Grabbed the ladder from the garage and peeked over the fence and there they were, having themselves a little backyard salad of the neighbor’s overgrown weeds. Would I leap over the fence to grab them up if the dog came outside? Risk a likely–and justified–dog attack to get those little black marauders out while putting my own safety in jeopardy? Those questions flew through my mind and I decided not to answer them, especially since said large dog was not an old friendly Golden Retriever-type who barked pleasantly through the fence on occasion while wagging his tail. Quite the opposite.
I ran along the fenceline with a panicked sort of elongated head-bobbing thing happening, peering through the fence cracks to see if I could see Gertie and Dot, all the while calling them and hearing them respond, like a twisted game of Marco-Polo. Looking for a bent fence post or tweaked fence panel that I could unbend or un-tweak to get them back in. But no obvious escape route presented itself. So I darted back into the garage to grab a bag of their food, knowing the crinkling bag sound would draw them like flies to me, ran back to the only damaged fence panel I knew of, and in a moment of Hulk-like strength, ripped the panel off the fence. The opening was only five inches wide, but who knows–maybe they would jump through. Nope. They ran over to the opening, snatched some food from my hand but refused to venture through to my side. I ran back into the garage and yanked a bag of stale popcorn out of the fridge (you learn to keep odd things around for chicken bribery), rushed back to the fence opening, shook the bag and dropped a few morsels on my side, and…nothing. No takers. Sheeeet. What would make them abandon all caution and fly through a fence crack? GRAPES. I run, arms flailing crazy-man style, to the house, taking out half the low-hanging spider webs from beneath my lemon tree on the way, and leap up the back stairs and into the kitchen. Grab the bag of grapes from the fridge and dash back outside, imagining the neighbor’s dog was outside by now having himself a fresh chicken shishkabob, Dottie-style.
Pushed aside the big pool deck box that was partially obstructing my access to the fence opening (and which I later surmised could have very well been the platform from which they leapt over the fence and into their current situation), ripped off a second fence panel–this was no time to observe proper fence etiquette–shook the bag of grapes, and had them in my sights again. This time, Gert took the bait, jumping through the opening and back to safety. Score! And Dottie still won’t come. Runs around the neighbor’s yard instead, calling in her panicked little badly tuned clarinet-sounding honks. By now, the whole flock is freaking out on my side: Gertie because her other half is clearly in distress and she can’t see her, and the three adults because of Gert’s distress, all of whom are now running in circles around my yard calling out various chicken obscenities in my general direction, since I’m clearly the cause of all this ruckus.
But then a quiet calm settles over me like a blanket. Wait a minute, I think, I have the bait I need for Dot right here: Gert! So I chase everyone into the run, grab up Gert, and walk over to the opening for her calls to draw in Dot. Dot sails right through the opening. Drop Gert, slide a piece of plywood over the exposed fence hole, and lock everyone up in the run. By now, they’re all just ecstatic to be in there, protected from me and the chaos I’ve caused. And so I head into the house for a much-needed and well-deserved shower and nap.
The whole flock has been in lockdown for 24 hours while I surveyed the property and determined there are no possible escape zones. The fence panels are now replaced, the pool deck box moved to another location, and the babies’ flight feathers clipped. All is well and good now at The City Hen. And I need a drink.