The ghost of my lost chicken, Holly, came to visit me last week.
She came running around the side of the house, feathers ruffled and wings spread out. Coming in for a landing. She was bawk-bawk-bawk-ing, braking her run right before me. She swiped her beak left and right in the dirt over and over again.
I thought it was Penny, the other Australorp. Both are black, but Penny’s comb has taken a pecking and she always seems to be right out of a dust bath. Holly, on the other hand, is sleek black with a perfectly formed comb on top of her head, deep red, and without a nick to be found. She’s clearly higher up in the pecking order of the flock.
I stooped to pick her up, but she fluffed, squawked, and ran just out of my reach. Upon closer look I realized it was not dusty Penny, but missing Holly!
I grabbed some kale, tore some pieces off, and threw them to her as a welcome home treat. Usually a snack she sprints to me for, she ignored them, drinking from the duck’s bathing pot instead.
I called her sisters over thinking maybe she’d eat with the gang and have a reunion. She had been missing for two weeks to the day, after all.
She made a bee line out through the front gate, but by that time I had attracted all the other hens, plus all three ducks, who enthusiastically gobbled up all the kale leaves as fast as I tossed them.
Less than a minute later I was off in the direction of my elusive bird, with a line of humming chooks behind me, and further back a slower-moving trail of quacks. Holly Hen was nowhere in sight.
Rooftop, Searching for Holly, Photograph by Brea Fisher
I searched all over: under trees, behind rocks, under scrap pieces of corrugated metal roofing. I found a cat, but no hen. And by the end of my hunt I had not only all the birds inline behind me, but also one great beast of a dog and a three-membered pride of cats who bounded from tree to tree keeping the dog in clear view.
I figured the parade was sure to keep Holly hiding, so we all gave up and went about other homestead business.
Although I wasn’t expecting to see Holly that day, I wasn’t totally surprised. When she didn’t return to the coop at dusk two Sundays before I had had a feeling she was around somewhere, holing up, choosing not to come home. She had never been a broody girl before, but hens are known to sometimes get the urge to sit on their eggs until they hatch.
I had seen no sign of foul play, no feathers strewn about, no odd, defensive behavior by the other hens. And I had a story that kept coming to mind, which kept me calm.
When you feel a little fear creeping in, call upon your brigade of positive-outcome what-ifs to sweep your worries away before they settle in for the long run.
A friend had told me the story of her parent’s chicken who had gone missing. Apparently their hen had been gone weeks and they had come to terms with the conclusion that she had perished by predator.
But one fine spring day, out of the woods came marching the missing chicken, with a line of tiny peeping chicks in tow. She had been brooding in the forest all that time, had made it through nights of storms and possibly close calls by foxes on the hunt, and had been able to hatch her babies safely, proudly bringing them home to join the flock.
The difference between that flock and ours is that they had a rooster. Our flock is all ladies, which means all of the eggs they lay remain unfertilized.
An unfertilized egg that gets sat on for weeks, is a very futile practice.
Heartbreakingly so, Holly Hen had been out there in the chilly autumn nights, two storms, and any number of close encounters with predators. And there she continued, sitting, waiting, being a good mother to babies that will never emerge from their eggs.
Certainly a rooster-less flock was not what nature intended. But does that mean my modern mama hen was out there braving the odds for nothing? Was it all in vain that she sat, brooding, patiently keeping her eggs the perfect temperature and level of humidity by pulling out her own breast feathers?
I’d like to think she gained something in all her hours of nurturing those eggs out there.
The next handful of evenings I thought about Holly, especially at dusk, when I was closing up the coop. It saddened me to imagine her out there alone all night and all day, for weeks.
However, what bothered me more was the thought that she was out there working to hatch chicks that would never be. How could her struggle be for nothing?
And with this hopeless thought, I inevitably thought of my own life, and all the struggles I had endured, seemingly for nothing, at the time.
In the thick of one’s suffering the mind wants to belittle the hardship by refusing to see its significance.
Over time we can understand the importance of having experienced the things that challenged us most, but up close, when we’re right in the middle of it all, it’s easy to fall back on the perspective that our struggles happen to us as opposed to for us.
There is meaning in the process of struggle, challenge, trouble, and suffering; choose to see it that way and its messages become available to you.
The body has a wisdom that can override the mind’s tendency to form opinions and judgements. Move the body in a way that finds balance and flow, and it will naturally create harmony between the internal and external worlds, the yin and the yang.
In this Qi Challenge I created a tai chi lesson film for you. Give yourself some space in which you’ll be uninterrupted for about five minutes. The film is only about two minutes long, but it would be most beneficial for you to follow along at least twice.
There is no audio narration; however, notes are included on the screen as the movie plays. Please feel free to ask questions; just leave a comment below the blog.
Take a moment before pressing play. Notice how you feel in your body.
Identify something in your life that you want to relate to with more harmony, something you may have been resisting, or something that has been causing you strife.
Set the intention that you will find peace with this particular situation. You can use the following resolve, or make your own:
I will harmonize myself with this challenging experience to find its hidden meaning.
After you’ve followed along a couple times, notice how you feel. Check in with your body. Use ting jing, listening power, and listen with all your senses.
Last week I had three surprises, on three separate occasions, upon my return home.
The first was on Monday, and I came home to find a new hothouse, built by my love with salvaged materials and filled with containers ready to be planted for year-round herb and vegetable growing.
On Tuesday he surprised me with a beautiful hand-built rocket stove made out of stone and mud. Wikipedia’s definition of a rocket stove is “an efficient and hot burning portable [or permanent] stove using small diameter wood fuel.”
Both of these two new additions to our homestead are featured in the tai chi film posted above, by the way.
My third surprise came after I got home from teaching my Saturday tai chi classes. Holly was back! She had come out of hiding that morning and seemed to have wanted her nest to be discovered. She led the way, revealing a very secret stash of eighteen eggs, completely hidden beneath that heap of corrugated metal roofing.
Although I felt relieved and happy to have her safely reunited with the flock, I couldn’t help but simultaneously feel that same old sadness when thinking about her chicks that didn’t come to be.
I’ll never know what Holly’s trip was regarding her experience, what she might have gained by going through it, or how she felt about it all. But I do believe that the animals closest to us have the unique opportunity of helping us learn things about ourselves.
When your dog repeatedly runs away, or your cat has a peeing on your bed issue, they just might be fulfilling a teaching role for you, helping you see more clearly something about you that needs attention.
So if Holly had something to teach me, maybe her message was this:
Hardship is only futile when you disregard its significance.
My wish for you, and for me, is that we decide to get into harmony with both the ups and the downs that make up the circles of our lives.
May we all find the hidden stash somewhere deep within ourselves.