I’ve been – so far – quite lucky in love and in life; my heart remains mostly intact. But one small part of it has been frayed and mended, over and over, so that by now it must be patched like a crazy quilt. That is the corner of my heart that I have given over to the sweet animal companions that have brightened my life through the decades. Dogs and cats and one silly cockatiel, and yes, even chickens. And even though I know it is not real grief, each loss sends me reeling.
One of our two baby chicks vanished. Just gone. One moment, browsing with her mama in the bushes; the next morning, no sign of her anywhere. She was the slow one, the one to always take a wrong turn and end up on the wrong side of the gate. Maybe that is what happened. Or possibly something small – a rat? – got into the pen and plucked her. We will never know.
She was a little Blue Cochin, a portly little feather-footed butterball. I’ve long longed for a Cochin. They are stately and docile and I could tell she was going to be a sweetheart. Everything was perfect. Until it wasn’t.
I am haunted by the loss. I searched the bushes and walked up and down the fence line of the pen again and again yesterday, looking for any sign of her. Usually there are tell-tale feathers to confirm a sad story, but this time, nothing. Poof. She is just gone.
It would be easier not to mention it at all. But there are two lessons in it worth sharing. First, a reminder to the veteran flock keeper and a caveat to the inexperienced one: always, always, always do the head count. I had gone into the coop that night to check on the flock. Mama Bella was in her usual place and I could hear peeping beneath her. I chose not to disturb her so it wasn’t until the next morning that I discovered the loss. Far, far too late by then. Always do the head count.
The second lesson comes from Bella herself. She is a fierce mama, and must have been frantic at the loss. Yet she soldiers on, calm and dedicated to her remaining chick. The past is past, no time to dwell. Move forward.
And I will. In time. Another row of stitches on that little corner of my heart. Grateful to every one of God’s creatures that have graced my life, even for the briefest moment.