I have many times been told that I should write a story about my struggle with cancer. I did several years ago. This one. The Hen Who Wanted To Fly. So, today I have spent the entire day, instead of baking and wrapping gifts, being my own editor.
I am the hen, chickens are humanity, the farmer is God, and the weasel is cancer. The ducklings are the young people mentored through the years who grow up to care for us….nurses, doctors…the scientists who dream up new treatments.
It is important to note, that the part about the hen hatching out the orphaned wild duck eggs is true. That actually happened on our farm. Our poor old hen completely panicked the first time she saw her “babies” swim.
Little known Pat fact: For two summers when I worked for Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, I was on Lieutenant Governor Carol Molnau’s State Fair Celebrity Ag Team. I competed in animal calling. I was reserve grand champion both years. Finishing second both times to the the entire Department of Agriculture Team. My ribbons are huge!
The first year, I called in the cows. The second year, I was the wildly clucking hysterical hen whose babies went swimming.
Children’s Story: The Hen Who Wanted To Fly
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 okay with all that, because she knew she was special. She had a secret that made her different than all the other chickens.
What was her secret? Henrietta wanted to fly.
Many times she had practiced flapping her wings and running as fast as she could across the chicken yard attempting to fly over the chicken coop fence, but she never could get off the ground. Practice makes perfect she figured, so she just kept trying until time caught up with her and she had to admit she was no longer a plucky pullet, but a large old hen.
The many changes of nature to her mechanics, did not diminish her dream of chicken flight. When she became a mother she decided that if she could not fly, maybe her chicks could be the first chickens to take flight. Regardless, of the countless hours of wing flapping and running while wing flapping, none of her chicks ever achieved lift off.
Many years passed by. Now, in old age Henrietta would sit outside the chicken coop on warm summer days lost in memories. She no longer laid eggs or mothered chicks, but spent most of her time dreaming about the good old days. Those golden days when she was needed by the farmer and greatly loved by her chicks. Day after day she felt less and less useful as she watched pretty perky pullets flirting with the roosters and young hens mothering their new chicks.
Then, she would hear them. The great flocks of wild birds on wing overhead. Her eyes would dart heavenward to watch them fly over. She had long ago accepted that neither she nor her offspring would ever join any of those great flocks and that her dream of flying would never be realized, but dream about it…she still did.
It was there daydreaming on her empty nest one fine morning that the farmer found her. He grinned and showed her that his hat was 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 trusty hen.
Of all of the hens in the coop he chosen her to hatch these strangely colored eggs for him. Henrietta heart swelled with emotion as her eyes filled with tears..the farmer still needed her.
Henrietta knew exactly what to do with a nest full of warm eggs and 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.
Then, 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! She was their mother, they were her chicks and she thought them beautiful.
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. Holding her head high, she led her new babies out to meet the rest of the flock.
It didn’t go well. The other chickens, being chickens, crowded together and began to cackle with alarm about Henrietta and her strange looking family.
Frightened fowl often make foul choices and these chickens were no exception to that rule. They quickly decided that their precious small-beaked yellow chicks should have nothing to do with those odd looking creatures of Henrietta’s. The other hens immediately resorted to malicious clucking and gathering of their babies under their wings to prevent them 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 yard with her twelve new ducklings in a straight line trailing behind her.
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 in a field harvesting. There in the bright green field had lain a dead mother duck. A victim of a weasel attack. When the farmer had lifted the young lifeless mother duck off of the nest, she had lost her life defending, he had found the twelve eggs.
Quickly, the farmer checked the eggs to see if they were still warm. They were! At that moment, the he knew that he could make some good come from such bad. He gathered the eggs gently into his hat and raced for home.
The farmer knew that of all of the hens on his farm, it was Henrietta that he trusted to hatch those eggs and raise wild ducklings. He knew her to be a very good mother, and about her secret wish to fly.
Many a time he had enjoyed watching her trying to fly or attempting to teach her chicks to fly. As entertaining as her antics were to observe, he had no fear of Henrietta ever “flying the coop”. First of all, the farmer knew, even if she did not, that big strong hens cannot fly. He also knew from extensive chicken exposure and experience that there was no more loyal of a hen than old Henrietta.
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 babies were ducks. She just figured the eggs had belonged to a big round-nosed chicken with funny looking feet.
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 wet. It was so windy and wet 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 had been all tucked safely beneath her. Her soft downy feathers kept them warm and dry. For, Henrietta knew how very important it was to keep young chicks dry. They get very sick if they get wet. Then, too, loose, energized or deep water is perilous for chickens, because chickens cannot swim anymore than they can fly.
Henrietta saw nothing, but danger in the situation left behind by the storm. Not only was the fence down, but worse and worse, the road ditch next to the downed fence was flooded to the brim.
As the mighty red rooster let out his ear-splitting universal barnyard chickens in danger of drowning warning, Henrietta sprang into action, but before she could corral any of her youngsters, all of her babies took perfect leave of their senses and made a dash for the deep water in the ditch.
One right after the other of her babies jumped into what Henrietta knew would be certain death. 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 running in circles and covered both of her eyes with her wings. She just couldn’t bear to look at her drowned dead baby chicks, but she knew she must!
Slowly she opened one eye and peaked out through her wing-tip 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, smoothed down her ruffled feathers 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 chase and catch bugs in the meadow. Each day ended with a swim for her babies in either the flooded ditch or the farm’s small pond.
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 racing her babies across the barnyard. Wings flapping and running as fast as her feet could go with all of her babies following 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 barnyard as they had during the long warm days of summer.
Darkness came early this time of year and with darkness came danger for farm chickens. At night weasels came out and their favorite snack was fresh chicken.
Every night the farmer would lock up all of his chickens, except Henrietta and her brood, inside the warm well lit hen house. Henrietta began to wonder if the farmer had either forgotten about or no longer cared about what happened to her or her babies. So, Henrietta looked out for her family herself and found safe harbor at night inside the big barn with the cows.
It been a particularly lovely fall day and Henrietta and her ducklings had dallied too long down by the pond. By the time they arrived back at the farm that evening they found the doors to the barn were shut.
Well, now, this was trouble. Henrietta knew how dangerous it was for a chicken to be alone out in the night unfarmer protected. Since, there was no way to get into the barn, she decided the safest place to sleep would be right next to the lighted hen house.
That is where the weasel found her.
She spotted the weasel slinking in the shadows silently slithering towards her and her babies. Weasels are quick nasty little varmints that can easily outrun a chicken. Clearly her babies’ lives were in danger!
Henrietta’s only thought was to save her babies.
Henrietta quickly told them to…..RUN!
As she bravely faced death and the weasel, behind her she could hear the rush of air through her babies’ wings as they flapped them to increase their getaway speed as they ran. Just like they had done so many times in play when Henrietta had raced across the barnyard with them chasing her as she pretended they could all fly.
After making sure her babies had escaped, Henrietta attacked the weasel with all her might! 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 there was every chance that the weasel would win and her life would be forfeit, but she was determined to go down fighting.
Just as the weasel was ready to pounce on Henrietta to finish her off, a large shadow passed over. Then, she felt herself being lifted up into the air.
Higher and higher she went. She was flying! Her babies were flying! Chickens cannot fly? It was then that she finally accepted that her babies were not swimming chickens at all…but were wild ducks. As a flock, they had swooped down to save their beloved mother from the weasel and were flying her high up into the tree where she would be safe.
Henrietta’s babies had rescued her!
As she looked down from the tree, she saw the farmer standing below them grinning up at her. At that moment Henrietta knew that her and her babies had never been left to wrangle with the weasel alone. The farmer had been watching out for them the entire time. He had not forgotten about any of them…not for a moment, because farmers love their chickens and ducks!
At last, Henrietta understood why it was that the farmer had trusted her with those duck eggs. He had known all about her secret wish to fly. He knew she would never be able to fly on her own, however he also knew that his faithful hen would never give up. He had counted on her and her dream of being able to fly to teach the orphaned wild ducklings to fly. It was all of her wing flapping races with those ducklings across the barnyard over and over again that had strengthened their wings and enabled them to take flight.
Throughout the rest of her long and peaceful, flight-filled life, Henrietta never again felt unloved or unneeded. She knew that was she was one very blessed, in a non-overly-busty way, old hen. For the very ducklings she had helped the farmer save, had saved her. And, the wisdom of the farmer had saved them all.
Psalm 44:21 For he knows the secrets of the heart.