Flying Feathers

On the ground outside the chicken house, there were feathers everywhere, and not a chicken in sight. My first instinct was to pull the rifle down from the rack and look for predators, but then I heard the voice of Rachael Ray call to me from inside the chicken house.

Rachael was one of the first chicks to receive a name and thereby insure her immunity from the roasting pan (except perhaps on those days when she forgets herself on the path Tracey takes to the garden shed). She is usually quite talkative, but her voice today was timid and disconsolate.

I opened the chicken house door and a carpet of feathers lay underneath our sad little herd of egg layers and bug eaters, still on the roost at midday. They looked miserable, half plucked and raggedy, shoulders hunched and heads down. Even the magnificent plume of tail feathers proudly worn by our rooster, Mr. Tibbs, was down to one sadly comical straggler. The chilly nights and the lengthening shadows of fall had signaled to our gang that it was time to molt.

Since childhood I’ve heard the expression, “mad as a wet hen,” but I think “sad as a molting” one is just as suitable. It’s a miserable time for chickens. They stop eating, cease exploring, quit laying, and enter a state of almost-hibernation until they have pushed out the old feathers and replaced them with a fresh mantle of new plumage to keep them warm during the winter. There is nothing to be done about it. It takes as long as it takes. It cannot be avoided and once it starts, it can’t be hurried.

Not everyone accepts their fate stoically. Some of the girls, more nervous and impatient, will pick at themselves nervously and irritate their skin, which accomplishes nothing but a longer wait for regrowth. They can become quite cross, and while they are too tired to fight, some of the things they say to each other cannot be repeated in polite company.

It occurs to me that we humans must endure our own version of molting. Sometimes things just seem to fall apart. Everything breaks. Nothing works right. We get tired and irritable and we lose the desire to explore our own lives. Devolution always precedes evolution, but when we’re on the other side of falling apart, we look back and see how it was all necessary to clear the path for something better.

Some of us have learned to wait it out, or as they say in the military, “embrace the suck.” Some of us pick at the discomfort until we’re raw. Sadly, we never seem too tired to fight. Nature is wiser than we are.

Nations, even civilizations seem to molt as well, but here in America it’s not the changing of the seasons that signals release and regrowth, but the recurrent and seemingly never ending election cycles. Every second and fourth year, the feathers fly. At its best, it mirrors nature. Unfortunately, we are constantly picked at by politics and media until we’re so raw that regrowth seems far away, and the bald spots make the winter even colder.

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