Alexandria was a strikingly beautiful Single Comb Brown Leghorn; a character who conveyed her somewhat colossal name when she was less than a month old. With extraordinary coloring and a large floppy bright red comb and considerable wattles, she matured earlier than the others, her brilliant coloring more rooster than hen. She was the second in the flock to begin laying eggs less than three weeks before she died.
Today Alexandria met her fate, neck broken in the jaws of a dog simply reflexing instinct. I can’t blame the dog for doing what nature instructed it to do, anymore than I can blame myself for not being able to save our feathered friend. She died in my arms. Still, not being a keeper of chickens before this flock, I wasn’t sure. I massaged her heart and stroked her neck while dropping small bits of water down her throat, along with Rescue Remedy, just in case she was merely in shock; even as her eyes and my own instincts told me she wasn’t going to make it.
When one considers the probability of thousands of eggs brought to maturity by a mainland hatchery, then shipped to fill a friend’s custom order in a box with breathing holes timed to arrive here in Hawai’i three days later while the chicks still had yolk sacs to sustain them, the odds might be stacked against this particular bird surviving to land under our care. Then there was the indoor brooding and raising process, combined with deciding which of the chicks would come to live with us and which would remain with our dear friend’s aging flock. Every two to three days, I would go over to visit the young ones and get to know chickens a bit. I’d carry them, two by two, out into the wide open sky to sit quivering in my lap before exploring the rich green grass in the wild and the wind and the vast, yet-to-be-explored unknown.
At two and a half months of life, ten little hens came to live with us in a large, beautiful, secure yard with plants and deep mulch for them to dig bugs and worms in and a nice enclosure with three roosts to choose from. A couple weeks later, the Egyptian Fayoumi flew the coop because she could, and was so distressed at not being adept enough to fly back in to rejoin her companions that I had to rethink letting them free-range our 1/2 acre yard. Bit by bit, they gained their freedom during daylight hours, delighting in foraging in the gardens, taking dust baths behind the ti and ginger, and cruising under the house to seek shade in the scorching afternoon heat. Egypt, the Fayoumi, still calls them all in at night to roost. She does a head count, too, and if one is missing, she squawks and screams until the stragglers come hurriedly flapping in.
Egypt laid an egg first, a small white orb I spotted in the mulch outside the kitchen window. Hens make a particular fuss over this, and it’s easy to distinguish an egg laying call from any other sounds they make. Meanwhile, Alexandria encountered our red catch-all porch bucket and immediately began trying to evict dog leashes and miscellaneous items in order to construct a nest for herself. Taking note of this somewhat piteous sight, I dumped the bucket and filled it with cedar shavings. I don’t know if it was the kindness I showed in granting her her own chosen place of refuge (to which she hurriedly returned in a panic, just before she expired) or something yet unexplained. But this hen, among a flock of ten, was one of the first to stand, stock-still against all instinctual urgings, to let me pick her up and gather her to my chest to coo with and smooth her feathers.
Before today, Alexandria would settle into her red bucket several times a day despite the comings and goings around the front door. That hens eschew chaos while nesting might explain why she never laid an egg in it. Instead, her eggs appeared in various spots around and under the house, then finally in the nesting boxes my husband built near their night enclosure.
Life is a mystery. Who can say how destiny plays its hand? I am grateful to have known Ms. Alexandria during her brief time on earth, and at lunchtime, my husband came home to dig a small grave. I laid her in it, resting on and covered by banana and ti leaves and three round beach rocks, symbolizing heaven, earth, and the journey in-between. A hui ho, little one. Until we meet again.