In the summer of 1980, I read Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and was first introduced to the phrase -now-Internet-meme “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” The phrase is uttered by Dolphins. Well actually, according to the Wikipedia summary (I don’t own a copy of the text anymore) says it like this:
For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.
The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish.
The last few days at Two Mile Ranch have been much like the summer I remember reading the Adams book. Bright, sunny and care free. Working a 10 month work contract at the University gives me June and July to work solely on farm chores. I thought of that book, the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, and it’s famous words: Don’t Panic. Good advice for Small Farm Life.
So I didn’t panic on Saturday evening, around 11:00 or so. I heard the noise of raccoons in the hen house. It’s a sound that is very unique. All the animals here have predictable sounds: I know when they are signaling to locate each other, the ducks often quack a round of
The roosters and hens call in various crows and cackles, and the geese honk and squeal. But the sound of a predator in the hen house is a sound that is unmistakable the first time you hear it, and every time after. It tells you there is every reason to panic….
I was slow, slower than usual. I opened the door and sent Chelsea, a visiting dog out and called for Zinger. Z was sleeping soundly and slower than normal, when I lit up the chicken pen with a flashlight, I was met by the raccoons eyes reflecting in the darkness so I yelled for both dogs.
They worked the outside of the fence while I tried to get to the hen house to be sure another raccoon wasn’t inside. The bandit predator frantically ran from pen fence to pen fence, to be met at each side by a dog. After a few unsuccessful escape runs, it vanished. In hind site, it’s clear to me now it climbed a tree to wait out the dogs.
As I moved the beam of the light around the pen, the first chicken I found was “Buffy”, the Buff Orpington hen, crouched in the grass. I reached to touch her and she exploded in a self-protective fury and disappeared into the grass. I looked in the coop to find the nameless Barred Rock and “Rosy”, the original Ameraucana, sitting on the floor. There was a broken egg, but no evidence of a raccoon still inside.
I walked around the pen, carefully searching in the dark and found the sad news I had anticipated. The Rhode Island Red was dead…and near by, “Girlie” the Ameraucana I wrote about here, was taking her final breaths.
Frank Perdue used to advertise that “It takes a tough man to raise a tender chicken.” I’ve shared this story and quote that you don’t “just grow a chicken, you form a relationship.” In that spirit, I’ll leave you to conclude what you will about those final moments in the grassy pen on that moonless night.
I give thanks when I send each meat bird to be slaughtered and prepared for someone’s meal. And so, I thanked each bird for their life and how they had helped to feed me and many of my friends with their eggs. I said, “So long, and thanks for all the eggs”
And with the dogs in the house, and the remaining hens locked in the coop, the story ends and life goes on…
Today, while doing chores, I was feeding the roosters and watering the turkeys when, out of habit, I peeked into the brooder room where “Girlie” would to sneak off to leave her eggs. In the corner, I found one final, small, perfect egg, the last one she laid, as if to say, “Thank you” to me for all her care.