The day before we left town, Pippa popped up to visit with me as I was wiping down a roost bar. She knew she could count on extra treats from me when it was just the two of us in the coop. She was such a little thing. I could scoop her up and hold her in the crook of my elbow while I fed her scratch from a paper cup.
Little Pippa as a baby chick:
I noticed that day how white and wizened her face had become. And I had noticed how she lingered on her sleeping shelf later and later each morning. Yet she could still be so perky, sauntering around on her snowshoe feet. Yes, seven years is a long-in-the-tooth hen (if hens had teeth) but I never dreamed that this would be the last time I held her.
Pippa as a young hen – Mille Fleur D’Uccles become progressively more speckled with each molt:
We were half a world away when the text popped up on my screen. “I’m worried about Pippa,” said our friend, Tammy, who, with her family, was so kindly house sitting for us while we were away. We were en route to an elegant reception and dinner as our travel drew to an end in Budapest but I was instantly transported to home and the coop and the papery touch of Pippa’s spangled feathers and her raspy cluck and the painful memory of the various hens we have helplessly watched in their last hours. Later, I gazed out a window of Budapest’s gracious Akadémia Klub and watched the sky deepen from pink to smoky blue over the river Danube and thought of sweet Pippa and poor Tammy as she valiantly attended our little hen in her last hours.
We have lost four pets in six months and we are so very grief-tired. It seems a peculiar term today, the fourteenth century phrase “animal husbandry”, but it manages to imply the bond and the responsibility we assume when we take on the day-to-day care of pets or livestock. Their utter dependence upon us for their welfare requires a pledge of fidelity from us for their care and feeding. We will always feel sadness that we were not there with Pippa at the end, but we are so very, humbly, grateful that our fellow chicken keeper, Tammy, was there to stand vigil and serve as a gentle guardian to our little hen on her stygian journey.
Pippa as we will always remember her:
Just after we left on our trip, when sleep was even more fitful than usual given a nine-hour time difference, I sank into a vivid dream in which Tammy and I were frantically trying to manage some undefined situation with a hen. I was bringing one to her or she was giving one to me or something of the sort, but there was a terrible urgency to the exchange and I woke suddenly with a strong sense of unease. At the time I chalked it up to general travel anxiety, but now I wonder if I knew deep down that Pippa was soon to leave us. There is such a cheerful rhythm that pets bring to our lives; their loss is a palpable one. Farewell, little Pippa-squeak, I hope your spangles are shining brightly somewhere in the cosmos.