a couple of weeks ago, one of my old hens disappeared in the middle of the day. she was a dear thing, a sweet soul that would spend the whole day picking along in your wake if you were outside. she had a limp in old age, the wages of a leg injury in her youth. we are all marked by where we’ve been, what we’ve done, who we’ve known. anyway, cricket disappeared and i was sad.
i kept the rest of the birds shut tight in the hen house the next day. i didn’t want to lose any more hens. when i went to check on them in the evening, they were gathered at the pop hole, flapping their wings and hopping at me. knowing that they wouldn’t stay out long in the late afternoon and that i would be around to watch for bad things, i opened up the door and let them loose. there never were such happy, relieved birds. one headed right for the shed where we store our hay and where she lays her eggs. the others headed for deep grass to begin the tardy tasks of bug hunting and salad nipping. it took me a moment to realize that what i had done to protect them had been a benign cruelty, that there is a risk in everything in life that is good and to remove risk is to remove goodness.
this is an argument i have with myself whenever the savage garden takes its toll. keep them in to be safe or let them live their best lives, perhaps with disastrous consequences?
in just a couple of weeks, my kids leave for the west coast to have a grand adventure. they are 18 and society agrees that they are adults. they have a lot of mistakes to make and not much time to do it in: four score years or so. i can’t keep them by me, can’t lock them up to protect them or the people they will inevitably hurt along the way.
in 18 years of defining myself as a parent, there was very little education provided for the day my nestlings became fledglings, but in keeping hens, i guess i learned enough.