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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mother Nature's Tax

My neighbor had warned me a few days ago that the fox was on the prowl. She said it had eaten all  but one of her chickens. "I had gotten lazy," she had told me. "We have a secure hen house, I just didn't lock them up that night. I guess I forgot."
I took it as a warning and locked up my coop. But only for that first night, when the warning was fresh in my mind. We had gotten lazy too.
Last night, the fox, visited the chicken coop. This morning I woke before dawn. I think the barking dog brought me out of my dream. Then I heard the sound of a chicken bawking in dismay. I bounded out of bed and rushed outside barefoot in my tank top and pajama pants. I found only two chickens in our hen house. I looked around the yard... there were feathers everywhere!
I heard bawking and followed the sound. In the moonlight I saw something slip away and then noticed a chicken. It was one of our little red hens inside the garden fence. Perhaps it had struggled and flown inside. At that point maybe the fox figured digging under the fence was too much work. He too had become lazy. I picked up the terrified hen. She seemed in tact, missing a few feathers perhaps.
I put her back into the safety of the hen house. Only three chickens left!
I realized then that my bare feet were so cold! In fact, that I could feel ice on the frosty ground. I ran back inside.
Soon I heard noises again from the hen house and I let the dog back outside. The dog barked for an hour and kept the animal away.
At dawn I went out to survey the damage. I intended to tell my son exactly what had happened to the chickens but I did not want him to see a mangled half dead bird or torn apart chicken carcass. I figured he was a little young and sensitive for that just yet.
To my surprise, when I stepped outside, three more chickens greeted me. Apparently they had retreated to the trees and survived the night!
Miraculously only one chicken had been eaten, Rosie, the cream colored one with a speckled head.

RIP Rosie
Reflecting upon the "fox attack" I feel fortunate that we only lost one hen. I feel responsible for not protecting her better but I learned a valuable lesson. The hen house will be closed up every night from now on; the fox can be sure of that.
But I also keep thinking of the fox. I heard her last year, calling for her mate in springtime. She may be pregnant right now and trying to fatten up her unborn pups. I imagine her sneeking into our yard one black socked feet. I see the glimmer in her eyes and the delight in her pounce when she knows she will eat well tonight. She is not greedy. She takes just one.
It is Mother Nature's tax. We all must pay our dues. I would rather pay Mother Nature than the government. I would rather feed the fox than fund the war. So, on this eve of tax day deadline, I will  pay Mother Nature her tax. It is a sacrifice I am willing to make. But until another year, the chickens we stay locked up tight at night.

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