We've lost a lot of laying hens of late. A fox was to blame for most of them. We know for certain because I spied it out an upstairs window early one morning before anyone else was awake. She (?) was walking the rock wall with speed and grace - it was beautifully, really, and yet I knew what the sight of her meant. Sure enough, we ran outside to find her victims...and again the next morning. And just this weekend, on Easter morning, a few of us were standing outside, having just done morning chores, when we saw a hawk swoop down, pick up a chicken, and fly off before we even knew what had happened.
We do the things we can - perhaps an extra stand of electric wire, we consider a farm dog, we hide in the pasture with a rifle in the dark of early morning waiting and watching, we try all the tricks and methods we find in books and on message boards. And each of these things helps, but the reality, we know, is that a certain amount of loss is just part of the territory where we live and with what we're doing. The fox may be gone, the hawk may have moved on...but surely in a few months time there will appear a raccoon or a weasel or an illness or something else that takes an animal. So, too, will there be more birth to come and daily celebration of animal life on the farm. It's all part of the whole.
There's still a twinge of guilt with each death, I must say - even if only for a few moments before the activity and needs of life call us elsewhere. What could we have done to prevent it? Always something more, surely. Most of all though, I worry about the children. Always. I worry about them discovering the bloody messes left behind, forever providing fodder for their nightmares. I worry about their sadness that their beloved - everybody's favorite - chicken named Angry was carried off by a hawk right before their eyes. I worry - like all Mamas do - I worry about these things.
I am reassurred often by those who grew up on farms where open conversation about all of these things happened. They tell me of the healthy respect and understanding for both life and death they have - and I see the deep connection those adults still have to animals and the natural world. I'm relieved a little bit by this, and by what I feel and hope to be true about these relationships we're nurting for our children, and the life we're living here. But mostly, I am comforted by my children, who when discovering that bloody mess left behind, feel the weight of it all, and then declare quite matter of factly, "Foxes need breakfast too" before wanting to help in the clean up process, study what was left behind, and take care of the rest of the animals we love, enjoy and care for every day. I stand beside them as that hawk swoops in and silently picks up a chicken before we can do anything about it, before we've even realized what happened. Sad, yes...angry, yes....but none of us can deny our amazement either - clearly a planned endeavor by a bird we didn't even notice, with speed and precision that impresses us all.
It isn't that they're not affected - indeed, they most certainly are, as we all are and should be. It's just that they seem in their youthful spirits, in their closeness to the natural world and the animals we care for, to have an understanding and peace about it all that I can only imagine, and try as I can to learn from.
We do the best we can. And we keep on keeping on.