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Front Porch: Nesting wanderer bears a gift

Thu., Dec. 16, 2010

This is something of a Christmastime story that doesn’t really begin like one. Here goes:

I ate an egg the other day, and it was delicious. It was just a few hours old – that is, it had just been removed from the nesting box in a chicken coop – and the dark yellow yolk sat up so high and proudly in the pan and the whites hardly drifted far from the center as it sizzled in a little butter. It came from Chicken.

Chicken is that wonderfully mysterious chicken who simply appeared in our driveway three days before Christmas last year. The freest of free range chickens, she spent the better part of a year wandering where she wished in the neighborhood and sleeping either under our deck or in and under trees in my neighbor Marilyn’s yard.

She ate heartily from the chow we both put out and especially enjoyed her veggies, cut-up cucumbers being her favorite. She entertained us with her antics through the winter, spring, summer and fall. Chicken was smart in her own birdlike way. She stayed close to our houses, bushes and trees and rarely ventured out into the open, all of which kept her safe from the raccoons, skunks and coyotes who also frequent the neighborhood. She stayed alive despite not having the safe havens of protected shelter or fenced yard.

Her luck couldn’t last forever, we knew. That, and the fact that a snowy and cold winter was forecast this year, prompted Marilyn and me to decide we needed to find a safer home for Miss Chicken. Joan and Jim Nolan in Spokane Valley kindly opened their coop to our gal, and Joan has been faithful in sending me e-mails about Chicken’s progress.

She slowly integrated Chicken into her own flock of Silkies, Cochins, Ameraucanas, Pendescencas, Black-Breasted Reds and Catalanas, at first keeping her in a wire cage inside the coop so she and the 23 other residents could get acclimated. Then she let her out in a small yard with two of the more docile birds, and she’d also tie a string around her foot and let her wander alone in the garden – the string being a leash of sorts so Joan could more easily catch Chicken. But Chicken’s survival instinct kicked in and she pecked at the loop around her foot to free herself. Joan realized she’d have to use a square knot if she was going to keep a proper rein on this free spirit.

What really sold me on this being the right home for Chicken was what Joan told me she does every night. After dark, she goes out to the coop with a tiny flashlight so as not to wake the birds. Then she moves them around on their perches, kind of like chess pieces, placing the robin-sized BB Reds in between the larger birds and then snugs them up for greater warmth.

Chicken has made the transition. And even though Chicken is of dubious pedigree, she is now a full-fledged, free-ranging member of the flock and is pals with MaMa Hen, Spot, Sweetie, Buffy, Blondie, Brownie, Oprah, Olive, Rosie, Cutie Pie, Libby, Sparky, Lucky, Billie, Jill, Bitsy, Betsy, RB, Rodney, Leroy, Bro, Sissy and Greta.

We’ve been told she’s taken a particular shine to the rooster Leroy and cuddles up next to him at night. Hmmm, we’ll have to see what comes of that.

Because this was an open adoption, Joan welcomed Marilyn and me to come visit whenever we wanted, which we did recently. Marilyn brought chicken chow and I brought along several cups of cut-up cucumbers. Marilyn got to hold Chicken in her arms – something we were never able to do when she roamed free in our neighborhood. And while Chicken is still getting used to such domesticity, she remains the lunch-mouth she always was – and greedily ate her veggie treat from our hands, also a new experience for us.

But back to the egg. Chickens don’t lay when they’re frightened or stressed. But on the day we visited her in her Spokane Valley home, Chicken had just emerged from the nest, where she had just produced the very first egg she laid at her new home. Now I’m not so sentimental as to believe that Chicken laid that first egg on the very day we visited to let us know she’s OK, but I like to think she did, even though (I think) I know better.

So here we are. It’s almost Christmas again, the time when Chicken first entered our lives, and now, a year later, the time when she’s gone to a new home. Joan gave the egg to us, and I got to take it home.

At the very least, I can consider that egg as our Christmas gift from Miss Chicken. And that’s what I choose to do.

Stefanie Pettit’s e-mail Previous columns are available at


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