When it was time to play outside, Gracie watched from a distance and wondered if she would ever be able to dance again without being called names.
She had not acted in a way that would hurt anyone else. She had only been carried away by the beauty of spring, a spectacular beauty that had to find a way out from her heart.
The others quickly made up a game that would become a regular favorite. It was the simplest game imaginable.
“Baa-ŸawK!” someone would say before snatching up an earthworm and running. Everyone would follow and hope to grab it away from the lucky chick.
There was only one direction—forward! And there was only one speed—as fast as their little feet would carry them!
Each worm would get passed around several times. It took great skill to dodge and block and eventually maneuver into a spot where the winner could gobble it down.
It was their game, and they made up their own rules. They owned it, and I simply named it The Worm Olympics. Soon I was calling out “Baa-ŸawK!” right along with them.
Eventually Bessie convinced Gracie to join them, and Gracie discovered she had another gift besides dancing that the others truly did appreciate. Because she was so light on her feet from running and leaping, the earthworms could not tell she was sneaking up on them.
Lefty was never as clever. He would always announce loudly, “I am going hunting today!” Then he would stomp off loudly to his favorite hunting spot, making a great show of himself. Everyone knew where he was going and what he was planning to do—especially the earthworms.
Gracie always found more worms than Lefty, and she usually found the longest worm too.
Gracie and Bessie also kept more of the earthworms they found because their technique was very different from everyone else’s.
They would not say “Baa-ŸawK!” like the others did to announce their discovery. They only gave a very low “Baa-” as a secret signal to each other. If you weren’t listening for it, you would miss it.
Then one of them would snatch the worm up out of the ground and flip it through the air over to the other who would run away with it while everyone chased her. Sometimes they would flip the worm back and forth through the air. None of the other pairs of friends ever copied their strategy. Perhaps it was because Gracie and Bessie cared more about their friendship than who got the earthworm in the end.
Whenever Gracie found a good spot with more than one earthworm, she would toss one over to Bessie and then snatch up a second for herself. Then they would run in opposite directions, leaving the others unsure who to chase. They both usually got an earthworm in the end.
Being a good hunter has always been a prized skill among chickens, and they all respected Gracie for it. Even Lefty had to admit how good she was.
Over time, the others forgot about what had happened that first day outside, but Gracie did not. Having them laugh at her had become The Bigger Scary Thing.
There were times when they were unable to find any worms to use for The Worm Olympics. When they saw me take out the shovel, they would line up at the play fence in anticipation. They watched in awe as I dug up a fresh batch of worms from the compost pile.
Their eyes grew big, and they peeped and cheeped with delight when I said, “Baa-ŸawK! We have some, and they are whoppers!”
To them, I was the greatest worm hunter of all time. They always seemed surprised that I never kept any of the earthworms for myself.
Just as “Baa-YäwK!” had become my favorite Chicken word, “Whoppers!” soon became their favorite People word. “Who wants to play outside?” was a favorite question for all of us. We all did.
A day hardly went by without at least one round of The Worm Olympics. They played simply to have fun with their friends. There was no keeping score. None of them knew how to count.
Each outdoor adventure gave them new experiences and new knowledge. They would run and play until they were completely exhausted. Then they would flop down on their tummies with their wings spread straight out and take a nap. We called this “going splat.”
Once they had played their last game for the day, I would gently pick them up and return them to their brooder box for some dinner and a warm night of rest. To me, it seemed they had all they could possibly need with their friends and a world full of wonders.
But there was something Gracie needed far more. She needed to dance.