Hens of the Woods
May 01, 2020 11:54AM
By Gayle Morrow
Growing in the woods around here are a couple of very delicious types of wild mushrooms with chicken-themed names—Grifola frondosu, AKA hen of the woods, and Laetiporus sulphureus, AKA chicken of the woods. This story is not about either of those incredible edibles. It is about actual chickens. In the woods.
Some years ago, we found ourselves afflicted with the Enhance Your Life with Fowl syndrome, so we spruced up an old coop and accepted the responsibility of a flock of Henny Pennys. There was also an aggressive rooster in that mix who would keep his beady little eyes on me whenever the two of us were out in the yard, but that’s another story.
One nice spring afternoon, we had opened up the coop door so the girls could be out picking and pecking and doing chicken things. We were in the house when all hell broke loose. There was bedlam, there was squawking, there were dead chickens in various stages of head loss. There were several frightened girls up in trees, traumatized not by the death of friends, relatives, and coopmates (chickens don’t seem to be especially empathetic), but by the realization that they could be next.
Well, didn’t we feel like really bad chicken parents? Our beloved little flock had been suddenly and significantly diminished in a brutal sort of way (the culprit turned out to be a rogue fox—not the friendly Mom Fox and babies who lived across the road and who we had been watching for weeks with such pleasure, but a wicked Uncle Fox, one whose moral compass was clearly off-kilter), and we weren’t sure we had the heart to restock.
However, a few weeks later, on a warm evening, we were on our mountain bikes, pedaling up a dirt road in the woods not too far from Colton Point. We rounded a corner and, hey, what’s that over there? Chickens. There were chickens in Penn’s Woods—a dozen or more (including a darling little Banty rooster who was doing his best, under difficult circumstances, to keep his hens safe)—all looking sad and droopy. There wasn’t any water. There wasn’t anything to eat. There was laurel, but even chickens, who have no compunctions about eating last year’s Christmas cookies or, if the opportunity presents itself, each other, won’t eat laurel.
We were seeing an opportunity here. We could be saviors. It was, as Paul Simon sang, a shot at redemption. We could, we would, rescue these chickens.
We pedaled as fast as we could to the truck, drove to a friend’s and borrowed a couple of dog crates, drove back up the mountain to the scene, and waited. At about dark-thirty, the chickens, bless their little beaks, began roosting on the truck. They knew, didn’t they, that we were their ticket out of the mess someone had left them in.
Now chickens, when they’re roosting, tend to be on the somnambulant side. It’s the most opportune time to snag them, unless, for some reason, you’d rather amuse your partner by chasing after squawking birds through the afore-mentioned laurel. So we began plucking (no pun intended) the sleepy hens from the tailgate and stuffing them into the crates. A cluck here, a lethargic wing-flap there, and everybody was soon loaded up.
We had most of the members of that particular group of chickens for several years. Then, one evening just this past spring, there I was, driving on a dirt road, trees all around, no houses close, and—what’s that on the guardrail? Is that a chicken? Yes. Yes, it is. Another hen in the woods. I couldn’t just leave her there, could I?
I had nothing to put her in, and even a half asleep hen might rouse herself enough to create a problem inside of a moving vehicle. What to do? I did have a cloth grocery bag that was fairly sturdy, so I stuffed her in that and held her on my lap all the way home, where she has settled in nicely.