We forgot to close up the chicken coop. It is one of our nightly tasks, along with putting children to bed, making dinner, bringing in the firewood. Every night, we must close up the chicken coop. Last night we had people around for dinner, my husband was out for the day, people were coming and going at the time when we are usually doing our nightly routine. I thought about it a couple of times, and then was sure that my husband had taken care of it, because he arrived home after dark, and the light from the coop shines down the driveway, a beacon to remind us. But in the end, we forgot.
I glanced out the window at 6 this morning, and noticed. Thought about it briefly, thought that we hadn’t seen a fox in months, thought we were going to have to figure out a way to remember. I was more concerned about them being cold.
Just before 7, one of the neighbours called to say that there was a fox running down the driveway and two dead chickens in the yard. We dashed out in pajamas and winter boots. It was much worse than that. There were several dead chickens between the house and the coop, and when I went into the coop itself, I didn’t see any chickens in the first room. In the end, we found that 11 chickens are missing, 6 of which were still in the yard. That is nearly half the birds, and almost all of the young, plump ones. We were mortified, imagined our poor chickens as the fox came and went again and again, and knew that this was our fault, the punishment for our moments of inattention. “Oh, if only!” Even if I had gone out at 6, it might have helped one or two of them. But we generally open up the coop around 7, so there didn’t seem to be much point. And we hadn’t seen a fox in months.
Routines are our defense against having to think things through again and again. But when they get disrupted, and we are jumped forward to the wrong part of the routine, and we don’t have a back up plan, things get forgotten. Usually we get away with it, but sometimes, those moments of inattention cost lives. And this time it was “just” the chickens, and we eat chickens, and maybe it’s not so bad (unless you are one of the chickens.) But we made a commitment to protect these wee birds and give them a decent life in exchange for their eggs, and we forgot them.
My husband went out, and he gathered the chickens around the yard, and he fed the ones that were left, and he changed their water. And he said that the fox came across the frozen river, he followed the tracks, and we really hadn’t had a fox in months and months. And that makes it a little better, I guess, because I really want the chickens to be able to wander around, and have access to fresh air, and all the things that increase the risk of being small, defenseless, and tasty.
But these moments of inattention are the same thing that cause car accidents, and workplace accidents, and children getting lost, and drownings in the bathtub, and houses burning down, and, and, and… and the list of what-ifs gets as long as my arm, a litany of things I might forget in a moment of inattention.
And I find myself, for much longer than a moment, whispering, “Thank goodness it was ‘just’ the chickens.”