I suppose there is some poetic synchrony in June departing just as her namesake month came to a close. It’s comforting to think of her basking in the lingering light of the solstice, making the most of her last days.
We’ve been down this road before. Ah, but it never gets easier.
The CE and I had both noticed that something was “off” with her. Of course, with June, something was always “off”. She was skittish and solitary from the get go, never quite making her way with the flock. She clung to mama Bella for the longest time until even Bella’s patience wore thin and June was left to make her own way.
She entered her adolescent awkward phase, and never quite left it. There’s always an odd chick out, and June was that chick.
She made up for it by laying the prettiest eggs:
For the past few weeks, however, she had seemed even more reticent than usual, browsing off by herself, tardy to join the flock when it was time to come in from a ramble. But here is the thing with chickens – with all birds, actually – their key to survival in the wild is to never manifest weakness because weakness can mean death. So, by the time we noted symptoms it was already too late.
I told myself the usual fable; “maybe this time it’s something treatable”. Called the vet to make an appointment but it was two minutes past 5 and they were closed for the day. We decided to separate her from the rest of the flock, but as the CE picked her up to move her she convulsed and within moments she was gone.
Gone is too simple a word here. Anyone who has lost a pet holds a memory of that eerily charged moment when the spark, the essence of a creature’s life departs. The strange, hollow silence that descends. I am reminded of a story I was once told about a local physician, an ardent non-believer, who nonetheless admitted that when a patient passed away there was a tangible, effable, almost material alteration of experience in the room. He could not deny that there was a departure of a soul, regardless of what he wanted to believe about where that soul was next bound.
Did June have a soul? According to Descartes in the 1600’s, indubitably, no. Animals were but “machines”. Settled science, as the saying goes today. But then just a century later along came David Hume, proclaiming that “no truth appears to be more evident, than that beast are endow’d with thought and reason as well as men”.
The subject is still debated today, which is why, by the way, when someone tells you to “follow the science” you may be embarking upon a very long journey. What I do know is that in the moment we looked down at June’s lifeless body, something had changed, all the June-ness – all the quirky, antic energy of who June was – had departed, and it was painfully sad.
She was four years old, which, in chicken years, is maybe not quite average and, given that she hadn’t laid an egg for quite some time, likely points to some sort of internal laying disorder. Still, there is always the worry of something contagious, and I’ve spent this week in vigilance over the remaining flock. Thankfully, all five remaining hens seem healthy, even Ginger, who is seven years old this month and, in defying all the odds, still lays the occasional egg.
Every time we lose a pet, the thought surfaces that it is too much tugging at the heart to go through this yet again. That thought surfaced as I watched the CE trudge down to the back of the property to lay June to rest along with all the other chickens, cats, dogs and other creatures who’ve graced our lives through the past decades. But the collective grief is still somehow outweighed by the collective joy and the ways in which their lives enhance our own. Descartes may disagree, but I believe animals have and are the very sweetest of souls. And may June’s rest in peace.