Ruby is a high-strung chicken, built like a bulldog with a heart yellower than a lemon. She was traipsing back and forth against the fence when I went out this afternoon, eyeing me and waiting for me to release her into the wilds.
She hung around behind me as I pulled grass, lamb’s quarters, mustard, and Queen Anne’s Lace from my treasured tomato patch. I offered her a tender clump of wood sorrel, and, interested, she came walking over for a peck. There happened to be some clover in the clump as well, which she also ate. She minded her own business, hunting for snails in the damp greenery near the stream in the backyard, while I continued to weed, one eye on her.
Growing bored of weeding, I turned to go see what Chicken was up to. I found she had wandered to another edge of the garden and was crouching there, half in and half out, near my pea trellis. What was she doing? After eyeing me for a moment, she turned her attention back to – a wild strawberry! The delicacy! She plucked it from the plant, laid it on the ground, and ate it with gusto. Then she stepped carefully away from that patch and walked slowly along the edge of the garden, searching with calm deliberation. I saw the next strawberry a moment after she started reaching for it. She knew I’d brought her out here to enjoy herself and didn’t suspect I’d take her strawberry. I didn’t. She pulled at it, smacked her beak when she got juice on her tongue, and finally had the whole strawberry down the hatch and was looking for more.
“All right, Ruby,” I said, patting my thigh and attempting to call her like one would call a dog, which, as usual, failed. She followed me for a few steps and then stopped, probably thinking, Yeah, I’d rather stay here if it’s all the same to you.
I walked back to her and reached for her, expecting indignant rebellion and loud squawks, but instead of flapping or jumping away she only mildly clucked her complaint. When I opened the coop door for her (after she’d flown out of my arms for the last time, but without comment) she walked right in, back to her friend Minerva, the aging and lethargic Buff Orpington.
Later I walked by to see Minerva and Ruby sitting together in the shade. Ruby wasn’t pacing back and forth by the door. She was at Minerva’s side, though that chicken rarely moves. Content to stay put.
Getting out for strawberries and sunshine is good for high-strung chickens. Good for people, too.