I thought Minerva was the Eternal Chicken. Older than my eight-year-old son, she strutted proudly through yard and garden year after year, her black, bronze, and gold feathers glistening in the sun. She could outwit predators and escape any enclosure, no matter how much my husband tried to heighten the fence and (literally) clip her wings. She was a free spirit, and there was no sense in trying to fight her: If she wanted to roam, she’d find a way to do it.
She seemed eternally youthful. Even at the beginning of this summer, she was routinely jumping the six foot fence and wandering the yard, leaving the other chickens to stare at her with forlorn jealousy. Alas, old age hit her all at once; a few weeks ago, I noticed a grayish tinge to her feathers and a loss of energy that proved she wasn’t immortal after all.
To be honest, I thought I’d lose her sooner than I did, but she never was one to give up easily. I almost forgot my sense of impending loss until one morning when she didn’t come out with the others. I found her tucked into a corner in the bottom of the coop, a place she’d never frequented before, but one where she was quiet and safe. She knew the end was coming, and so did I.
When I came home from work and checked on her that afternoon, her body was still in the same place, but she was clearly gone. At least she didn’t die alone; two eggs were sitting near her, indicating that two of her companions had abandoned their normal laying spot to be with her as she died. The next morning, a single egg lay where she’d been lying.
Minerva is buried in the garden now, at the base of a newly planted aronia bush. I know that humanity is constantly pummeled with boulders of grief, and I feel guilty for being sad about a chicken when so many people are losing all they love in any given moment. Even so, I can’t deny that little grains of sorrow can slip in and chafe the heart until time pearls them over.
So I’ll quietly mourn my chicken and wait for the aronia bush to grow.