Sometimes maybe we forget how the boundaries and fences we see really can be for our own protection, for our own good. But there are unseen boundaries found in the heart of a different nature.
After Lefty and Rudy left for a farm in Southampton County and The Emperor and The Empress left for a farm in Smithfield, Gracie and Bessie were the only ones outside. But Blanche and Pearl soon outgrew their indoor brooder box and joined them.
Without Lefty or The Emperor to lead the flock, Bessie found her spot. But really there wasn’t much leading to do at first when the only other chicken there was her best friend Gracie. I think Bessie was glad when Blanche and Pearl joined them. She had younger chickens to keep in line, particularly during those awkward, rebellious teenage weeks!
After a little over five months of unemployment, I was hired into a temporary position, and Bessie had a chance to show her leadership skills while I was away. She was so proud when I would tell her, “Okay, Miss Bessie, you’re in charge until I get back.” She took her duties very seriously.
One day when I got home, I knew something was different by the way the chickens were behaving. When I looked closer at Bessie, I could see she had two gash marks on the top of her head, one on each side of her comb.
I asked her what had happened, and she told me the best she could. She even went up into their coop to show me more. She would talk and point with her beak and talk some more and point to a different spot. Then she pointed to the blood spatters on the inside walls of their coop, and I knew how deep her trauma must have been.
She went on and on for the longest time. All I could say was, “I know, Honey, I know.” But I didn’t know what had happened. Only she knew, and I think that unseen boundary hurt me the most…not that I wasn’t there to be the protector, but that she didn’t know how I shared her feelings even though I hadn’t shared her experience. Somehow knowing someone else shares your feelings makes difficult times less difficult.
Having Bessie recount the story of whatever happened the way she did convinced me never to think of any chickens as “just chickens.”
Finally she settled down, and we went on with our evening routine. My best guess is a stray cat found a gap in the fencing between their coop and run, not big enough for either animal to get their bodies through, just a paw or a beak.
Since then the cats started taking different routes, and now all of the chickens go into “high alert” whenever one is in sight. But whatever happened that day changed Bessie. She continued to be the leader for a while, but began holding back more and more until Gracie took over.
My timid little Gracie, with the lump on her side and who I thought would be at the bottom of the pecking order for her entire life, became the new leader.
While Gracie will always be “My Best Girl Ever,” Bessie will always be “My Bravest Girl Ever.” I tell her that often because I think she needs to hear it. She is now more retiring and reserved than the others. She fought a brave battle, lived to tell about it, and is glad to now rest and let her best friend be the flock champion.
My Life With Gracie (and especially Bessie) showed me what it means to be a leader.