Have Chicken, Will Travel

When Mocha first fell ill (see “Gone Awry”), I regarded the prospect of toting a chicken along on our anniversary trip as only marginally more acceptable than that of having a toddler in tow. I have to confess that I spent about twenty-four hours hoping for a hasty demise.

But after two days of intensive care, Mocha had perked up considerably. Since reuniting her with the flock seemed premature and asking a sitter to provide the requisite TLC unreasonable, that left two options. A) Make chicken soup or B) load Mocha up in the Birdmobile and hit the road.

The probable breakdown of family relations upon Brianna’s return from DC, among other considerations, swayed me toward option B.

Fortunately, Mocha offered no objections. A tranquil, if winding, hour-and-a-half’s drive through farmland and forest brought Brian and me to our retreat, a creekside cabin in the Coast Range near Alsea. After a brief free-ranging excursion, during which Mocha nearly disappeared into the cramped recesses under the deck, I confined her to her carrier. But the following day, at the invitation of our hospitable AirBnB hosts, I let her loose on the daisy-speckled lawn.

For some quarter of an hour I played anxious nursemaid, fearful lest Brianna’s bird tumble down the steep bank to the creek, lose herself in the shrubbery, or decide to camp out beneath the deck. But, reassured by the little red hen’s propensity to scratch on the perimeter of the lawn and lounge in the dusting holes she hollowed for herself, I eventually retired to the deck.

Thanks to the temperate weather, we were able to spend much of our time on the spacious, comfortable deck, where we could watch Mocha scratching about on the verges between the lawn and the underbrush, making her contented, chickeny sounds. I found her, ultimately, to be a much more harmonious traveling companion than the aforementioned toddler. She didn’t roust us from our bed in the middle of the night, she didn’t vie with our books or Scrabble for attention, and she seemed to share my desire to stay within sight.

Once, when we had stepped inside the cabin after breakfast to make tea, I emerged onto the deck a few minutes later to find Mocha meandering far down the sloped lawn, her white spots mingling with the daisies.

“Mocha!” I called. “What are you doing down there?”

She craned her now-unkinked neck about and, spotting us, headed back up the hill at her lopsided trot, as if to say, “I was wondering where you’d got to.”

The project of herding, dosing, and occasionally hand-feeding sunflower seeds to an infirm hen actually reinforced our holiday pace. Unless ruffled by perceived danger, hens are habitually sedate creatures. Watching Mocha scratch and forage in the decaying debris under the fir trees was a visual reminder that nothing urgent demanded my attention.

Reclining in a dusting hole.

The Speckled Sussex also proved to be quite a conversation piece. Our AirBnB hosts were chicken lovers as well, and their pre-teen sons brought their own pullets for introductions. About fifteen minutes away, in Philomath, we found a singularly appropriate cafe–The Dizzy Hen. Our lunch entrees (no chicken involved) were exceptional, and the amiable owner was delighted to hear about our traveling chicken. While we were posing for photos outside the cafe, a man bearing the aspect of a seasoned farmer leaned out the passenger window of a passing pickup and called, “Speckled Sussex is my favorite breed!”

Back home, Mocha continues to fare well in the spacious isolation pen attached to the main chicken yard. When not in use as an infirmary, it’s a favorite haunt of the hens, due to the shade of the prolific Virginia creeper climbing up the barn wall. As predicted by one of the sites on which we read about wry neck, Mocha’s recovery is marked by apparent setbacks. She trots, ambles, flies, and occasionally flops, but generally seems to be moving in the right direction.

I do miss Mocha’s contented companionship. We hit the ground running upon our return. But when things slow down a bit, I may decide to liberate her on occasion, just for the pleasure of her placid company.

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