I didn’t look back; I couldn’t, for fear of what I would see. The sound was hollow, soul-shaking, and unforgettable. It must have broken into a thousand pieces.
The lagoon has always been one of my favorite spots. I have been to breathtaking European gardens and tropical sandy beaches, but DeKalb’s East Lagoon is where I would choose to spend my days. It was probably near dusk, and the weather was still and warm. I don’t remember where we were headed or where we had been, but we were driving alongside the lagoon when we came upon the turtle.
In true tortoise-and-hare fashion, this turtle was indeed keeping a steady pace of not much more than zero miles per hour. Dan slowed the van and then came to a stop while we waited, waited, and waited some more until our path was clear.
After what seemed like much more time than even a tortoise should take to cross the finish line, we were finally on our way, safely out of the animal’s path. Within seconds, though, a car came from the other direction, and that was the end of the turtle.
We can work so hard, with such patience and devotion, hard enough to think that we have nearly made it to the other side. Then something happens: a trigger of some sort, a reminder of something that used to be, unkind words, or a forgotten birthday. A thousand pieces, or even more, that need to be put together again. Sometimes, I’m just weary.
The snow had not yet begun to fall, but the early morning’s mist hinted that the storm was near. Something came fast from the field to the south; it was darkish gray, maybe, and it rolled under my car so quickly that I could not avoid the impact. I hoped it was a tin can or maybe a rock, but I feared it may have been a squirrel, a rat, or a field mouse. I looked back and saw nothing, so I continued home.
The chickens seemed confused by the snow. Our first snowfall this season happened to accumulate to nine inches, and it took a couple days and some melting before they ventured more than a few feet past the coop. They were a bit braver with each passing day, and by now little chicken footprints could be seen all around the farm.
The snow began falling with a fury in the afternoon. By dusk, I knew that the flock would be in the coop for the night. Aaron, my best chicken helper, was a few steps ahead of me as he bounded through the blanket of snow.
“Six chickens!” He called back to me with an air of urgency. The chickens, led by Wendell, our rooster and their guardian, always convene as a flock before roosting for the night. Now, nearly half the hens were missing, and Wendell was on high alert, clearly wondering, as we were, what had happened.
It’s a message from the school, a call from a concerned parent, an observation, or something I may have overheard that shatters the fragile shell that had taken so much to build. Here we are, once again, in the place that we wish away. Maybe it will never really go away. Maybe it can’t.
I understood going into chicken keeping that chickens are not forever. There could be sickness, extreme weather, an accident, a preying hawk, or another predator that could take one of my hens. Even Wendell, I know, is not invincible. But four? To lose four chickens at once, during the daytime, was unfathomable.
My tears flowed cold, and the wintry wind burned my cheeks. “We could order more chickens,” offered my sidekick. We could, but I wanted these chickens, my chickens.
I thought of how carefully we had planned for the chickens, who came to us as tiny two-day-old babies, who we had nurtured and tended with the best that we had. We brought them ice water and frozen fruit to help them keep cool during the summer’s heat. We gathered each egg with great pride and wonder. We put fresh handfuls of shredded pine bark onto the coop floor and tossed lavender and oregano into the nest boxes. We held our chickens, and we loved them.
I often wonder if love is enough.
When I passed back along the path near where I had been earlier that morning, I noticed the remains of what was probably a squirrel at the edge of the road. I wondered if this had been the gray flash that I had encountered some ten hours before.
Dan came out with the flashlight, and he and Aaron had not been gone more than a few minutes before I heard the cheer. The four chickens were cold and afraid, but they were safe.
Sometimes we make it out. Sometimes, there’s just not enough of something. And then there’s a whole lot of stuff in between.
There was an extra sweetness about those hens as we carried them, one by one, to the warmth of the coop. The ten were reunited as a flock, and, in this moment, relief blanketed all God’s creatures. The hens had been spared. Their time had not yet come, not yet.
I love going to the lagoon. My memory of the demise of the turtle is not enough to keep me away from a place so magical and dear. My brush with the lost chickens makes me love them that much more. When we stumble and fall as all humans do, as we struggle to our feet we see that the door is left open for another chance, perhaps another trial here on earth.
And for the doors, open, closed, and unexpected, we are grateful.