A hen at the door's worth . . .

Since the hen at the door chose the spot herself and keeps returning, maybe there's some meaning for me in it. This is the second time she's made the barren planter box her place to nest. I'd had no success in planting it myself - but last year she sprouted six eggs. The planter sides were very nice for keeping in chicklets, and the hen must have been sufficiently impressed to return. I know I was sufficiently impressed to be glad she did.

There's something about a hen at the door. As she sits there in dreamy meditation, I meditate on her. Why am I joyful when I see her all fluffed out over her planter nest? It's not that I'm anticipating increased flocks - I've pretty well learned not to count eggs even after they're hatched. Nor am I on intimate terms with her or other animals, being a live-and-let-liver from way back.

Which could be a way of saying I'm not much of a caretaker. The truth is, my thoughts are often off elsewhere - where chipped dishes and unmatched silverware can't speak. Maybe that's why my children's beds tend to get tended it they tend them, and dishes are taken care of sometimes the next day. I take pleasure in other things - related to home, but not cleaning it.

Chickens, for example. I've noticed they fit in quite well with my domestic habits. They're able to take care of themselves - especially if we don't clip their wings or snip their spurs, their means of protection. I know letting them roam the property for food opens them up to new dangers in a way that closing them in a coop wouldn't. But closing them in the coop closes them into dreadful things. As the terms cooped-up, pecking order, and climbing the walls suggest.

The hen at the door, I feel sure, wouldn't be here if my domestic habits didn't fit in with her. I don't think she would have chosen it for her secret place, for example, if the door was much used - if we had many visitors, I mean. James Beard has said that being a good cook will never fail to make people beat a path to your door. Which is probably why I never learned to be one. I like quiet, and the thinking it affords.

The business of hatching is a quiet affair. For the hen it requires no comment except to intruders. An idle rooster looking for a chat, nosy hens coming to eye the nest site, are sent off with an indignant squawk. Otherwise she silently makes like the dirt in the planter. Being brown helps. It's called protective coloration, and it does. Only the blinking eye remains to be seen.

I'm busy hatching things myself. Silence punctuated by rooster crowing and hen cooing, has become essential to my soul. I realize some don't seek this and don't like it when they find it. Thus their march of mercy through our pathless weeds to save me from isolation.

Unlike the hen I don't blend in with the scenery, and for a lot of humans it's a breach of the species to protest at intrusions. When some people come near I'm more sitting duck than setting hen. The blankets of leaves they walk through left where the trees put them - to shelter roots, to invite worms - turn red along with my face when I see them being eyed. Likewise my half-swept sidewalk. The hen, in silent calm, is bypassed with flying colors. Even the new nestful of chicks fails to solicit attention.

I'd say there's no doubt the hen's a beneficial sign. A hen at the door is as good as a stork on the roof. I feel honored. She's saying that in the midst of the left-over dishes, unplanted planters, and other mixed blessings someone feels very much at home. She certainly makes me feel more that way. I'm brimming over like the planter box is now, with chirps of newness and clucks of pride.

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