Once upon a time there was a farmer. On his farm lived many different kinds of animals. He was a kind farmer and was always very good to his animals for he loved them very much. As fond as he was of all of his animals, he had a special fondness for his chickens. The farmer really liked chickens. Of all of his chickens his favorite was an old hen named Henrietta.
Henrietta had been on his farm for many years, in fact she was the oldest chicken in his flock. In her youth she had been a very good egg layer and mother to the many chicks she had hatched. She was almost always friendly to the other chickens, even when some of them had not been so friendly to her. She was never the prettiest, or the smartest hen in the farmer’s flock nor was she the most popular hen in the coop, but Henrietta was alright with all that because she had a secret that made her different than the other chickens.
What was her secret? Henrietta had always wanted to learn how to fly. Many times when she had been young she had practiced flapping her wings and running as fast as she could across the chicken yard to fly out over the coop fence, but she never could get off the ground. Then, when she became a mother she decided that if she could not fly, she would be the first chicken on the farm to teach her chicks to fly. They never learned to fly either.
Now in her old age, Henrietta would sit outside the chicken coop on warm summer days and remember all of the fun she had on the farm. She no longer laid eggs or mothered chicks, but spent most of her time dreaming about the good old days when she was needed, surrounded by family and knew she was loved. She filled her afternoons watching a new generation of pullets flirting with the roosters and young hens mothering their new chicks.
Then, her eyes would drift heavenward to admire the flocks of birds flying overhead. She had accepted long ago than neither she nor her offspring would ever join any of those great flocks. Henrietta knew her better days were behind her. She felt alone and useless. Worst still, her greatest desire to fly was never realized and she knew that it now never would be.
It was there daydreaming in her nest one fine morning that the farmer found her. He grinned and showed her that his hat filled with brown speckled eggs. “Henrietta, old girl, have I got a job for you!” the farmer exclaimed. He then gently took the eggs out of his hat and placed them under his old most trusted hen. Henrietta eyes filled with tears as she realized that the farmer still needed her. Of all of the hens in the coop he chosen her to hatch these strangely colored eggs for him.
Henrietta knew exactly what to do with a nest full of warm eggs. She was as devoted to those orphaned eggs as she would have been to her own. She kept them cozy and warm and made sure that she turned them with her feet on a regular basis so that they would not get any cold spots. For over two weeks that old hen sat on those twelve brown speckled eggs.
One morning she heard a tiny peep coming out from one of those eggs. Jumping off the nest Henrietta watched as egg after egg started to crack and small fuzzy yellow and black creatures began to emerge. Turning her head from side to side she checked out her new brood. These were the strangest looking chicks she had ever seen, but it did not matter to her a bit, because the farmer had given them especially to her! They were her chicks, she thought they were beautiful and she was their mother.
As soon as her babies were dry and fluffy and she had them jump out of the nest and follow her outside into the chicken yard. She held her head high as she led the new babies out to meet the rest of the flock. The other chickens, being chickens, crowded together and began to cackle with alarm about Henrietta and her strange looking family.
Those frightened fowl quickly decided that their precious yellow chicks should have nothing to do with those odd looking creatures of Henrietta’s. The other hens made sure Henrietta heard their clucking as they gathered their babies under their wings as if to protect their chicks from even seeing let alone associating with birds that were obviously of a different feather.
The farmer heard the commotion in the chicken coop and knew right away what the ruckus was about. Henrietta’s eggs had hatched! He raced to see Henrietta’s new babies. All twelve of the eggs he had entrusted to her had hatched. What a picture greeted him! A proud Henrietta strutting through the chicken pen with the twelve new ducklings trailing behind her in a straight line.
Now Henrietta did not know that her babies were ducklings, she just knew they were her babies, but the farmer knew. The morning he had put the eggs in her nest he had been out in his fields harvesting hay. There in the bright green hay had lain the dead mother duck. A victim of a weasel attack. When he lifted the young lifeless mother duck off of the nest she had died defending, he checked the eggs she had been sitting on to see if they were still warm. They were! Knowing that he could make good come from such bad. He gathered the eggs gently into his hat and raced for home.
The farmer knew that if any hen on the farm could properly raise wild ducklings it would be Henrietta. He had always known she had a great love for her babies and about her secret wish to fly. Many times he had watched her trying to fly or watched her trying to teach her chicks to fly. It always amused him. For he knew, even if she did not, that big strong chickens cannot fly.
Here is where the story begins to get a little crazy for Henrietta. She knew very well how to raise chicks, but she did not know a thing about baby ducks. She did not even know that her new chicks were baby ducks. She just figured the eggs had belonged to big round nose and funny looking feet chickens.
At first the ducklings behaved just like baby chicks. They peeped a lot and stayed close to their mother as they ate bugs in the grass. Everything was going swell until the day of the big summer storm. This storm was a banger. It was loud, windy and very wet. It was so windy that the fence to the chicken yard blew down and the road ditches near the coop had filled with water.
During the storm Henrietta’s babies all hid under her. Her soft downy feathers kept them warm and dry. She knew how important it was to keep her baby chicks dry, because they can get very sick if they get wet. Then, too, chickens cannot swim, so deep water is very dangerous for a chicken. As soon as she spied that the fence was down and the ditch was flooded, she began to sound the alarm. Before, she could even get the rooster to crow, all of her babies took off running right for the deep water in the ditch.
One right after the other jumped into what Henrietta knew would be certain death for any baby chick. She began to run around in circles frantically flapping her wings loudly cackling, “Bakk, bakk, bakk!” The other chicken’s saw her misfortune and they too joined in the chorus of, “Bakk, bakk, bakk!.” Soon, the whole barnyard was in an uproar.
Henrietta stopped at the edge of the water and covered both of her eyes with her wings. She just couldn’t bear to look at her drowned baby chicks, but she knew she must! Slowly she opened and eye and peaked out through her wing feathers. To her amazement her chicks were swimming around having the best time of their lives. Why a couple of them were even diving under the water. She quickly regained her composure and proudly informed the rest of the flock that HER babies can swim!
Every day from that day on the farmer let Henrietta and her babies roam loose on the farm. They were no longer penned up with the other chickens. Oh, the adventures they had. They explored the dark woods and scratched the dirt with their feet for worms. Henrietta taught them how to eat grain in the farmer’s fields and peck seeds off of the ground in the meadow. Each day ended with a swim for her babies in either the flooded ditch or the small pond at the bottom of the hill at the end of the field.
Henrietta’s babies grew stronger day by day. Soon, their downy fluff was gone and they were all feathered out. They liked to test out their new feathers by fanning their tails and yes, flapping their wings. Of course the flapping of wings had always been one of Henrietta’s great thrills. Even at her ripe old age she still dreamed of learning to fly. Many times the farmer would see her leading the race across the barnyard. Wings flapping and running as fast as her feet could go with all of her babies copying her in hot pursuit.
Summer passed quickly, as it always does, and the leaves on the trees began to turn colors. The weather had grown colder and Henrietta and her babies no longer roamed as far from the chicken coop as they had during the long warm days of summer. Darkness came quickly this time of year and with darkness came danger for farm chickens. At night weasels came out and their favorite snack was fresh chicken.
Normally, Henrietta would have been safe inside the warm lit hen house, but the farmer had not put her and her family in with the other chickens. They were still on their own in the barnyard. During the summer the hen had taken her family into the big barn with the cows at night. They were safe there, but on this night the doors to the barn were shut and Henrietta was alone outside with her babies.
If only chickens could fly, she thought. Then, they could fly up into the trees with the other birds and be safe from evil weasels. She decided the safest place to sleep would be right next to the lighted hen house and that is where the weasel found her.
She spotted the weasel lurking in the shadows of dusk and slithering towards her and her babies. Weasels are quick little varmints and she knew that he could out run them all. Clearly they were all in mortal danger!
The farmer had entrusted those babies to her and she had to save them! So, Henrietta quickly told her babies to run to save themselves. Behind her she could hear the rush of air through her babies’ wings as they ran to safety away from the deadly weasel.
After giving her babies a head start Henrietta started running towards the weasel to defend her family. She ran at him as fast as she could go flailing her wings as hard as she could and ready to peck his eyes out, if given the chance, with her sharp beak. She knew that the weasel would win, but she was going to fight for the lives of her babies. Just as the weasel was ready to pounce on Henrietta and make her his supper, a great shadow swept over and Henrietta felt herself being lifted up into the air.
Higher and higher she went. She was flying! Her babies were flying! She was flying! Chickens cannot fly? It was at that moment that she figured out that her babies were not chickens at all but were wild ducks. As a flock they had swooped in to save her from the weasel and were flying her high up into the tree where she would be safe. Her babies had rescued her!
As she looked down from the tree she saw the farmer standing below tree grinning up at her. At that moment Henrietta knew that her and her babies were never in any real danger from the weasel. The farmer would never let any weasel hurt his chickens for he loved and protected them. She also knew why the farmer had trusted her with those babies. He had known all along about her secret wish to fly. He had seen the secret longing in her heart and while he knew she would never be able to fly on her own, he did know his faithful hen was the best bird in the barnyard to love those orphaned ducklings and teach them to fly. That was his mission for her.
Her love of those orphaned ducklings was returned in full when they all worked together to lift her up into the tree to save her from the weasel. After that night, the ducklings carried Henrietta on many flights and she did so love to fly. She loved those ducks so very much and knew that they would always love her. She never again felt unloved or unneeded. Oh, sure missed them when they flew south every fall with the other wild ducks, but looked forward to their return each spring and the hatching of a whole new generation of baby ducks to love.
Yes, Henrietta knew she had been greatly blessed by the farmer. He had made all of her dreams come true. She was needed, loved and could fly. Although, she could have done without the fight with the weasel.
Psalm 44:21 For he knows the secrets of the heart.