Today, like most days in the past week, the Wonder Hollow Six has wandered farther than before from their run and coop. As early in the day as the pin holding the run door gets lifted, without so much as a good-bye flap or side glance, they’re zip…gone. Door busters. And that leaves us, their lookouts and keepers, a tad nervous. We’re committed to their free-ranging. They do seem genuinely contented by the openness of their peck-what-you-will days. But they also seem genuinely naive in that they haven’t had many bona fide predator encounters. Only that one set of raccoon mud prints on the side of their Eglu cube, and when that happened the chances were good they corning and gritting deep in the dreamscape.
They’ve taken to the woods, undoubtedly because it is, for chickens, a cool and shaded carnival with lots of scratchable leafy detritus covering the ground, edged with poison ivy and wine berries, which they’re said to enjoy, and a carpet of soft-bodied wormy assorteds to feast upon. In the woods, no boredom; only food and fun.
We do check on them periodically. Yes, they’re still there, kicking leaves and razing foliage, a hop beyond Moon House and the forsythia stand, in the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine. Mid-afternoon, back from a “dump run” to the Montgomery County Waste Site on Pilot Road, I found the six were unexpectedly sunning themselves on the moon house stairs, Bitumen and Lightfoot with their wings extended, doing beached seal imitations, eyes slowly closing before napjerks called them back, and again. Looking closer at them, their crops were distended, more overstuffed than I’d seen before, kind of like when Yoki (who was a puggle) busted into his 40 lb dog food bag and ate so much he nearly split his trousers around, when was that?, 2008.
Our hope is that they are alert in the woods, that they are learning, that whatever they are eating in the woods is more good for them than bad for them. By respecting their free-ranging and by therefore courting the risks associated with being a young, flightless bird in the woods where there are hawks nesting nearby, where a possum and groundhog possibly share a subterranean burrow network, where predators occasionally lurk, I know freshly that feeling of groundlessness and the limits of control. The six have each other in a super-organismic way, and so it’s true, too, that their being more than alone gives these conditions a halo of friendliness, like it’ll be okay, come what will.