Rosey is leading the pack around the yard. The smaller chickens are curled up against her tail feathers as she sorts leaves of grass, sticks, bugs and worms. Every time a bird flies over head they hunker down like people who have survived strafing, the head lowers into the shoulders, the face tilts toward the danger and they brace on their ankles. They cluck as if to yell; “Incoming!”
This is one of their few outings because at under twelve weeks they don’t have their full set of feathers or claws and their little mom and grandmother worry about them. It’s unclear if they’re having fun but they are being chickens, very practical chickens. They sort by usefulness. If a stick which first looks like a worm is determined to be not a worm and not a toy, down it goes. If a ladybug crops up, they watch it fly off. Apparently they are not good cuisine.
I expected more of an excited keystone cops look with little chickens dashing all over in wild and unrefined excitement snapping at every other things with little discernment. Once again the chickens show their wisdom. They are cautious, deliberate and organized. They watch for birds of prey while checking for interesting snacks. They are neither frantic nor frozen but going about their task as if it’s something they’ve done a million times. They are normally big talkers in their aviary but out here they are quiet and focused. They understand their work as chickens and do it without fanfare.
They are reminding me of a scene from the recent visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Portland. He was presented a hat and jersey from the Portland Trailblazers. He put on the cap and proclaimed, “useful”, he held up the jersey and said quite clearly, “not useful” and tossed it to the chair beside him. I took it as a metaphor for thought. Keep those thoughts which produce useful action and intention and toss the ones which do not. It is a big part of the Dharma to avoid clinging to any one thought or feeling.
But in watching the flock I see it as even more practical. Rosey and the gang do what works. They don’t waste a lot of time chasing around after ladybugs or hiding from every possible threat. They evaluate and react. If they mistake a stick for a worm they don’t stand around crying or cursing, they either drop it and go on looking or turn it into a toy and play keep away. What’s to regret?
When outdoor time ends we pick them up and put them back in their aviary. They do not object to being outside nor being in their home. They respond to each as it comes appropriately. When they are back inside they coo and cluck reassuringly with one another as if reviewing the experience.
Rosey settles into her corner by the food dish, others go back to their roost and still others gather at the water dish. They pick up just where they left off.
Useful: Free ranging and hanging out in the aviary. Not useful: Being one place and thinking about another, having one experience and supposing it is another.
I settle next to them just outside the aviary and fall into a deep calm. I am only here and let me tell you, it’s so useful.