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When the Dusky Sky was Most Beautiful

I found them at the hour when the dusky sky was most beautiful. There was a small spot of darkness on the mounded snow, just where the parting sun reflected its glittery magic in that moment of time. Each time, on my way to close the chicken doors for the evening, an unfortunate detour led me to realize that my hens had met their demise. Two days in a row, a laying hen died before she was really done living.

We believe the predator was a raccoon. When we first moved to the farm, we would spot one or another of the resident raccoons peering from a tree or sneaking around in the bushes. Some nights' sleeps have been interrupted by the unsettling sounds of cats and raccoons involved in nighttime sparring. It is usually the raccoons that finish off what the barn cats leave from their dinner bowl. An abandoned baby raccoon took up residence in our chicken coop, free ranging with the flock, for a couple of days last summer.

A few days ago when I was checking on the hives, I noticed a raccoon running out of the woods after Christine, one of the young Green Queens who has just begun to lay eggs. I hadn't thought much about this. After all, the chickens and the raccoons had been living harmoniously for a long time.

Sometimes, though, change sneaks up on you and knocks you down. All thirty-one chickens had made it through the long winter with just a few minor rooster brawls and a rough molt or two. Then, in unforeseen flashes of consequence, my precious hens met their Maker while I was kneading bread in the kitchen or listening to the new measures my child had learned on his snare drum.

When your life's work brings an impossibly unpredictable and unending pattern of chaos, conflict, misunderstanding, and struggle with equally sporadic moments of indefinable emotion, you have to live pretty hard in your own head. There's so much to keep us going, maybe because if we stop, we will be eaten alive as the hens were...not by raccoons but by the depths of our own fears.

Today, I kept my hens locked safely in the confines of their run. It's cold outside, and they tend to stay close to the coops anyway on days like this. I can't, though, keep them locked up forever.

My friend took pictures of the three little boys at the time of their adoptions. They were toddlers. Two of them were photographed at bridges at the lagoon. Adoption, for us, is not a "crossing over" as much as it has been a step along the way. The bridge stretches long and the footing is not always secure. Sometimes, it's as scary as a fun-house bridge: the kind that you wonder if you will survive as you fumble, shaking, toward the light.

I can't keep them safe forever, and I know that. As the older ones find their footings, as I carry a wire basket of freshly laid eggs in a glorious array of colors, as one day turns to the next, I am struck by the mystery and wonder of what we are here to do...whatever exactly that is.

"My chin is sore, the bruise is gone but the spot is tender."

--10,000 Maniacs, "Cotton Alley"

Rest in Peace, Hen Howard and Sarah Minor. And thank you, Catherine, for capturing my tiny boys as they were.

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