As the weeks passed, Gracie was still slow to develop, and she worried about this. She saw Bessie having fun with the others and doing things that seemed so much more grown-up than the games the two of them had played.
She didn’t like being the slowest to grow into a hen. Her comb and wattles were the smallest of anyone’s, and her tail feathers were not nearly as full or as beautiful as Bessie’s.
What troubled Gracie the most was imagining what might happen if Bessie grew up to be a hen without her. If she remained a pullet who never laid an egg, would Bessie still be her best friend? And even if they weren’t best friends any longer, would they still have a few things that were special just between the two of them?
Gracie didn’t like thinking such thoughts. She knew deep in her heart that Bessie would never say anything to hurt her, but she also knew how much words can hurt.
The first words anyone ever said about her were the words of the sales clerk at The Feed And Seed Store, and those words had stayed with her. Words can do that. Hurtful words seem to be able to remain in a mind much longer than kind words. Gracie needed kind words.
We sat together every day, just the two of us, while the others were scratching and pecking. Every day, I would tell her, “It’s okay. You don’t have to lay any eggs for me to love you. I know you worry about growing up to be like everyone else because of the lump on your side. Even though laying eggs is what hens do, if you can’t, I will still love you.”
Once I told her, “The happiest moment of my life was at The Feed And Seed Store. You were in the shoebox and looked up at me and told me ‘PeeP!’ like it was the happiest moment of your life too.”
“PeeP!” said Gracie, and I had to smile because that was a baby chick word they had all outgrown.
Over time, Gracie began talking to me too. First only a few words, then more as her trust grew. She would speak to me in Chicken language, and I would speak to her in People language. Back and forth we would talk. She always knew exactly what I had said, but I mostly guessed at what she had said. Even so, I did seem to be guessing correctly most of the time.
Without realizing it, I had been learning how to listen with my heart the way chickens do. Gracie had been teaching me. She always looked directly into my eyes as if her heart was looking into my heart. None of the others ever looked at me that way, but Gracie always did.
And so, it just happened one day without either of us noticing it at first. It was what you might call A Simple Everyday Miracle.
“I love being here with you,” we both said at exactly the same time.
Our eyes got bigger as we looked at each other.
“One, two, three. You copied me!” we said together.
The happiest of smiles slowly came over our faces as we realized something altogether wonderful had just happened. Gracie was speaking to me in People language, and I was speaking to her in Chicken language.
There is no magic in talking with chickens. None of the books I had read about magic tricks ever had anything in them about talking with chickens, but I guess you could pull a chicken out of a hat instead of a rabbit if you really wanted a great trick.
What happened that day was not magic, but it felt magical. The magical can happen at any minute. My chickens look at the world that way. There is no reason for them not to because hatching from an egg is just about the most magical thing that can happen.
Magic and magical may sound the same, but they are not. For magic to happen, someone must say something or do something. It is like a flourish and then a wisp of smoke that is gone forever. With magical, it happens on its own without anyone saying or doing anything. It is like a seed and then a sturdy tree that lasts a lifetime.
The magical is the miraculous. At times, I think they are exactly the same thing or at least of the same essence. But neither is magic, and that is probably a good thing. My chickens don’t think very much of magic, but they anticipate the magical and miraculous every day.
The universe is dripping with an abundance of not only magically miraculous elements but also miraculously magical elements as well. There are so many we hardly ever realize they surround us. This is brilliant design.
Eventually, Gracie and I would have long heart-to-heart conversations, but whether totally in People or Chicken, it is difficult to say. Languages blend in the heart. That is where real and true listening begins even when everyone is perfectly quiet.
I wanted to know as much as possible about what it was like to be a baby chick in case I ever raised any more some day. One of the first things Gracie told me about was her time at The Feed And Seed Store. It had been a scary place for her.
“I stayed close to Bessie in the big box with the heating lamp. There would be a shadow blocking the light. Then The Big Hand would scoop up some of us. I didn’t know what happened to those taken away. I hoped it would be for the better when it happened to me. More than anything, I hoped it would be with Bessie.”
“So do you think it was all by chance that the two of you ended up here?” I asked. “You weren’t in the first group that I brought home. It was only because those others were so cute that I went back for you and Bessie. Even then, it was the sales clerk who picked you out, not me.”
“Maybe some of it was chance,” she said. “But even when you noticed my face was not perfect like Bessie’s, you didn’t tell the sales clerk to put me back. Instead, you whispered to me that I was more than good enough.
“I trust a good heart more than chance. Your eyes told me that we mattered. They told me that you would be taking us to A Most Wondrous Place. And you did, just as I knew you would. This is A Most Wondrous Place.”
“This little garden here in the city is nice, but I’m not certain it’s all that wonderful. Some parts seem wild and have hiding places for stray cats and other animals that don’t want to be friends with chickens.”
“It may not be wonderful to you, but it is most wondrous to me. That is what I called it because that is what it is. Not every wonderful place is wondrous. But every A Most Wondrous Place is wonderful.”
“That sounds like a riddle and a very fun riddle too,” I said, and she smiled at how her words had given my face a curiously delighted expression. “What does A Most Wondrous Place mean to a chicken?”
“We know it exists from the moment we hatch. It is what our hearts are set on finding as soon as we break free from our eggshells.
“It is not something that you can describe. It is not something you can easily point to and say, ‘Oh, look at that! It is A Most Wondrous Place!’ But you will know when you are there. You will feel it with your heart. Sometimes you will know even before you are there. That is how it was for me on the day you brought us home with you. This is A Most Wondrous Place.”
My first awareness of chicken wisdom began at that moment. Over time, I would learn more about how wise chickens truly are and what A Most Wondrous Place means to them. But on that day, I simply marveled at the miraculous and how there were more mysteries than I might ever be able to uncover right in my own backyard.
She told me about dancing with Bessie in the sunroom and how she had wanted me to dance with them. She laughed when I explained to her that I am not a good dancer and didn’t want to step on either of them.
She told me how I had been The Big Scary Thing, and we both laughed about how silly that fear had been.
“I thought you might take me back to The Feed And Seed Store,” she said, “Because dancing might mean there was something wrong with me, like the sales clerk said.”
She told me about how some of the others had said she was acting like a princess even though she wasn’t. That had been when they first saw her dancing. She told me about the lessons The Robin had given her and how she had faced The Bigger Scary Thing one afternoon when I was gone.
We laughed about that fear too.
“I thought they might be able to convince Bessie not to be my friend anymore,” she said, “Because dancing might mean there was something wrong with me and that I wasn’t good enough to be her friend.”
“Not being friends with Bessie would have broken your heart more than never being able to dance again, wouldn’t it?”
“You have to believe that even if everything that could possibly be wrong with a chicken was wrong with you, Bessie and I would still love you.”
“If that is true, then there surely can not be anything scary left,” she said.
“I certainly hope you are right, Sweetie,” I said. “But what if there is such a thing as The Biggest Scary Thing?”
We did not laugh that time, and so I knew an unspoken fear was still very real in her heart.
Instead of answering, she told me about the days when they were still discovering the many wonders in our backyard garden home. It felt as if I was discovering the world again for the first time myself as I listened.
“I have loved this garden from the first moment my feet stepped onto the grass. Every morning, when I wake up, it is hard to believe how beautiful our home is.”
“It was how you stepped that made you such a good worm hunter. You have light and delicate dancer’s feet, and so you could sneak up on them.”
“That may be true, but you really are the greatest worm hunter of all time. Everyone agrees.”
“Are you sure about that? I mean, I do use a shovel.”
“Shovel or not, you are the most generous worm hunter there has ever been. You give all the worms you find to us, even The Whoppers and The Wild Wigglers. We have never seen you eat a single one of the earthworms you have dug up. Not one. Ever. You give them all to us. It is your unselfishness that matters most.”
She would probably never understand how people don’t look at worms the way chickens do, so I didn’t try to explain. “Sweetie, you are making me blush,” I said. “Tell me more about exploring our garden.”
“There were too many things to see and do all in one day,” she said. “But we tried our best. I remember how Bessie and I would always go splat together after playing.”
“The two of you were easy to spot. You would rest your head on Bessie, or she would rest her head on you. None of the others would go splat like that. Only the two of you.”
“Yes, that was truly A Most Wondrous Place,” she said.
There were those mysterious words again. Gracie had given me another clue to help me discover for myself what A Most Wondrous Place means to chickens. But I knew better than to ask any questions. She would tell me what she wanted to tell me when she decided. I was content to enjoy this mystery one clue at a time.
“When the sky grows dark because there is a summer storm coming, you two hunker down together under the coop. Even now, I still see you gently resting your head on Bessie’s back just like how the two of you used to do.”
“And it is still only the two of us who do that,” she said, looking over at Bessie who was taking a dust bath.
Then she added, “The Promise Of A Most Wondrous Place is that every heart can find a way into it because it is always trying to find a way into every heart.”
“And if there is such a thing as The Biggest Scary Thing,” I said, “I know you will be more than good enough to face it.”
“And how will I do that?” she asked.
“The same way you seem to face everything. You will simply dance, and then you will take a leap of faith.”