Pondering poultry on the porch
I first suspected something was up when we began to research ways to keep the chickens off the porch. Sofia, who is incredibly intelligent, went to the ultimate source of knowledge, Google, and determined that there were about ten billion different ways that people have tried to keep chickens off the back porch so they wouldn’t leave their droppings for an unsuspecting barefoot person to discover after an ill-considered step. These attempts ranged from the extreme of zapping the birds using a charged electric fence to the nature lover’s solution of inviting the chickens inside the house because their presence on the porch is simply a cry for help because they are lonely and need human company.
Sofia’s approach to her fledgling chicken ranch is somewhere in the middle. She wants to keep them off the porch without frying the chickens prematurely, but she is simply unable to see them as members of the household.
She tried stringing up old CDs to hang on nylon cords to dazzle the chickens with confusing flashes of reflected light, but the chickens just strode right through the rotating flashing discs like John Travolta stepping on the disco dance floor. She purchased strings of Mardi Gras beads to hang from a line, with metallic plastic necklaces blocking access to the porch like a beaded door for a poultry hippie commune. The chickens just ignored the beaded curtain. They strolled right onto the porch to deposit their little expressions of chicken digestion for the dog to roll in at some point in the near future, probably right before he would climb into someone’s lap.
Nothing seemed to work, but then we heard that chickens are unable to stoop or crouch in order to crawl under something. Aha, we thought. Now we have them. We hung some plastic mesh as a barrier between short wooden posts at the corners of the porch. The top of the barrier was about three feet above the ground and the bottom of the mesh ended about four inches above the ground, running along the perimeter of the porch. The idea was that the chickens would bump into the barrier, and being literal stupid bird brains, would eventually wander away from the porch.
We have now learned that birds, even chickens, do in fact stoop. The truth is they stoop quickly, without losing their stride, and limbo right under the barrier to stand at the back porch window, each bird staring with one eye and then turning its head to stare with the other eye, in order to watch the hairless apes do fascinating things inside the house.
I wondered, having watched this battle of wits, if chickens might be the apex organism on the planet, rather than humans. I started to listen to their murmurings as they wandered around the yard or stood all too often on the porch, talking to themselves like grumpy philosophers. It was like they managed to clear the schedule that is their life of all distractions so they could consider the great questions of the universe. Is there a God? A chicken knows the answer. Is there true meaning to life? Ask one of Sofia’s egg layers. Why do bad things happen to good people? Perhaps it is because they don’t follow chicken philosophy.
But recent events have shown that chickens, while they may be philosophers with the amazing ability to stoop, are still profoundly stupid.
When the snow finally melted this spring, our chickens could once again spend a great deal of time outside their coop answering the great questions of life and the nature of the universe as they wandered around eating bugs and fussing at the cats.
But there is another philosopher living nearby. That philosopher is the fox, and he believes the purpose of the universe is to create interesting ways for him to kill chickens. The only evidence we have of the most recent practice of this philosophy is the reduction of our flock to a single chicken and a sad patch of damp feathers slowly sinking into the gravel of the driveway.
Now we keep the survivor in her coop, and that means the chicken stays off the porch, which I suppose was the best solution in the first place.
Andrew Birden is the general manager for Northeast Publishing, a division of the Bangor Daily News. People can reach Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.