Chickens roost when dusk falls. This means in the winter they are tucked in bed by 4 pm.; however, in summer I find myself trying to herd at least three or four of the wayward birds, with big arms spread wide, because I swear chickens can see behind them, toward the locking chicken wire gates. It makes herding sheep look easy!
From time to time, I get so irritated it makes sense to walk away and come back in the dark when the chickens have taken care to put themselves to bed. It’s the remembering to come back to lock the gates that sometimes slips my mind. Greg figures the chickens deserve to be eaten by the raccoons if they are going to play around so. I take a little more of the responsibility, as there does not seem to be room in a chicken’s brain for cause and effect.
The other night, having realized at 10 p.m. I had once again forgotten to close the coop doors, I grabbed a flashlight for a quick walk to the chicken yard. The moon was at full and I didn’t even have to turn on the flashlight to see where I was going. As I walked under the large mulberry tree in the middle of the yard I heard the leaves rustle and looked around for the wind in the trees. Everything was still. Just then several ripe mulberries dropped on the ground. It takes a moment to wonder whether the berries dropped to the ground because they were ripe, and this was a naturally occurring process, or whether there might be another reason.
I turned on the flashlight and shined it into the tree. Now, we haven’t looked for raccoons in the chicken yard tree since we figured it was easier to lock the chickens into their coop than to try and shoot raccoons out of a tree. It also just seemed more humane all around…. I was never much good at spotting raccoons in the trees anyway so shining the light up and down the large split trunk seemed kind of fruitless. Until, I spotted movement and the small body of a baby raccoon slowly inching its way down the trunk towards me. Once I caught one in my flashlight, I caught another, and then a third. Three baby raccoons, with tails no longer than 6 inches, quietly scooted down from the branches to within a foot of my face as they stopped for a gaze and then just as quietly started to inch back up another fork of the tree and out of sight behind the green leaves.
As quickly as they appeared, these three babies disappeared. The rustle in the leaves was gone. The mulberries remained firm on the tree and none dropped to the ground either by disturbance or nature. The moon lit up the landscape as I continued to walk over to the coop to close the doors and latch the clips in place. The chickens stirred from their sleepy stupor, aware someone or something was invading their space, but doing nothing to deter an attack. It’s a bizarre fact, but chickens lose the little ability they have to think in the dark. Another bizarre fact, you can hold them upside down by the legs and they will act as if they are already dead. Of course, giving up so easily like this usually ensures they will be dead by morning, either by knife or predator.
The babies in the moonlight of the mulberry tree did me a favor the other night. They reminded me the mulberries are ripe and ready to pick. They reminded me raccoons love mulberries as much as they love chicken. They reminded me baby raccoons are like children: they can be naïve to dangers in their midst, they can be careless and give themselves away, and they are darned cute when they are little. Finally, they reminded me to be more religious about locking the chickens in at dusk, because, one day soon, the mulberry snacks will be gone, and there will be chicken on the menu.
While this photo is not of the mulberry tree, which is just to the right of the frame, I thought this spider web was exquisite with the dew and less ordinary than the tree
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2007 Scottie Jones