I woke up this morning to find Ray, my shiny red hen, dead outside my window. I had passed her body on my way to the cabin late last night, pausing to shut up the coop before climbing into bed. I slept thinking all was well. Snow fell and dusted her feathers. It is hard to feel good when you dig a grave before coffee. Ray was my co-leader out in the yard. She ran a tight ship but did so with a soft hand, willing to discipline but rarely needing to. She was a kind and brave and fair captain because she had known hardship and did not wish it on anyone. Ray came to me a few years ago after I responded to a Craigslist ad for "chickens, $20". I arrived at a house with a yard filled with trash, the front door made accessible by a tippy, pivoting piece of plywood laid over mounds of junk. The front door was muddy. A young man answered. He had strong body odor and large, permanent looking pimples. Behind him, in shocking numbers, were men and boys in every stage of teen development. "I'll put the dog up and meet you in the back" and he gestured to the side gate which I could barely see behind the machine parts and moldy lumber. In the back I found a young German Shepherd "put up" behind a lean-to of chain link fence and a chicken coop in the far corner of the yard where the sun would never reach no matter the season. The coop was "ranch style", single level without a porch. The hens could not get out of the rain nor out of the mud. They all looked miserable but I crawled inside for a closer look... "No, you're gross and sick, you too, you're worse..." And then I saw her, right in front of me, a glint of shine peeking through the muck. "Oh! There you are. My diamond in the rough." When we got home she promptly scratched a deep hole in the dry dirt under the Fir tree and took a cleansing dust bath. She emerged hours later gleaming to such a degree that she looked wet. For years she has given the yard a peaceful and harmonious air. Like a war vet, she was grateful to simply bask in the sun and watch the kids play. I liked saying Hey Ray! I liked her slender hips. And her mysterious age. I liked that she was the only one smart enough to fly over the coop fence. But she never ate the garden. She was actually burgundy, not red. And closed her eyes when I cradled her like a baby.
Oh Ray. This day is dark.