Parts of modern life are like prison; especially offices. Part of desk work is accepting that a portion of my life involves sitting in a small fabric covered box looking at a glowing screen. Some people reading this also work in offices. Together we merely change the invisible information behind the glowing screen. Then we retire or die. I’m not entirely pleased with this development. I’d much rather be fighting dragons.
This isn’t to say that civilization is a total loss. I like things the modern world provides; food, heat, beer, motorcycles, porn, little packets of beef jerky, medicine that lets me live past 35, coffee, two ply toilet paper. It’s a good bargain to suck it up and “do time” in the office to pay the damn rent.
Would any of us be brave enough to simply live “in the now” like an animal? The family dog has the IQ of tapwater and licks his own ass but he has a pretty relaxing day compared to overworked schmucks like us paying the mortgage. But that’s just borrowed time. The dog stays contented because you took over the job of feeding him. The dog isn’t free. The dog is on welfare. A wolf gets off his ass and kills a moose. If a wolf is lounging on the ground the wolf damn well earned it. That’s freedom, bought and paid for!
Which brings me to our homestead flock of chickens. Commercially raised chickens live short appalling lives locked in lunchbox sized pens in a loud smelly fluorescent lit Orwellian dystopia. It’s a lot like working in sales. For most chickens, as it is for many office dwellers, life is a shit sandwich. But not our flock! We have genuine, no bullshit, free range, chickens. Each morning I fling open the door and the chickens are free to roam. They charge out looking for tasty things to eat; clover, dandelion, grasshoppers, worms, whatever… No fences. They range as far and wide as their chickeny hearts’ desire. They love it. Compared to penned chickens, ours have a spring in their step. They run around like children and it’s obvious that they’re enjoying themselves. People who visit invariably lean down to pet one of them; usually because they hassle any passing human seeking treats. An afternoon frolicking on green clover under shady oaks sounds pretty nice doesn’t it?
But freedom has it’s price. Hawks and raccoons (and for all I know Grizzly bears) occasionally make off with an unfortunate chicken. Life is like that. If you’re going to venture in the big exciting world you’d better keep an eye open. Luckily, few predators attack in the day.
Our chickens come home to roost at night. Nighttime brings far more dangers. Aggressive predators; coyotes, foxes, tax assessors, and lawyers come out of the woodwork. Chickens know this and have the good sense to get inside before sunset. Thus, proving that a chicken has an understanding of curfews and self-responsibility that exceeds a teenager.
At night the door is locked to keep threats out and they’re provided with all the food and water they want. They could get all their food outdoors but there’s always plenty inside. It’s a good deal for the chickens but they’re not paying their own way. They’re free in the day but dependent at night.
One chicken, for reasons known only to itself, decided to go feral. It utterly refused to go inside. At first we tried to shoo it toward the open door. Soon it was apparent that the bird knew darned well what it was doing and it wasn’t about to let some lumbering human oaf force it into the barn. I take a libertarian view of such things. If it’s not in the barn, it’s not eating the feed I paid for. Thus it’s no longer my problem. Let Darwin sort it out. Something will either eat it or scare the hell out of it. Surely it will get with the program if it lives through the night.
To my surprise the hen did just fine and still refuses to go inside. She’s been outside 24/7 for weeks. She is always there to greet the other chickens when I let them out at dawn. Chickens are social creatures and apparently like each others company. (I’ve been told humans are the same but I disagree and submit my loathing of my fellow man as an example.) The flock emerging from the door and the brave loner hang out together all day. At sunset the rebel hen ditches her lesser wimpy dependent companions and makes her own roost in the forest.
She is free. Totally absolutely free. She doesn’t owe anybody anything. She doesn’t take my food or my protection even though it’s available. She doesn’t need it, doesn’t want it, and clearly intends to go without it as long as she can. How brave is that? We’re not talking about a lion here. A hen in the forest is not the biggest fish in the pond. By now she’s seen and outwitted countless marauders with nothing but cunning and luck. She seems a bit leaner and quicker afoot than the rest. She should write a book.
She’s tougher than all the rest of us. Could you, a fat well fed human, spend every night in the forest for a month? Would you stand out in the cold dark night and willingly let that barn door close? What if you were the size of a hen and there were coyotes and owls? Would you turn down free food and housing just because you’re that tough? Indeed, the bird in question is making the rest of us look bad.
I’m rooting for her. We nickname our birds and she used to be “Rebel Hen”. Since she’s made it this long I’ve upgraded her name to “Freedom”. She might be dead tomorrow but she’s aware of that and apparently can handle it on her own terms. Way to go Freedom!