I do not live in fear. Ipswich seems mostly safe. People are nice. We have a competent police force.
Entries in the weekly Ipswich Chronicle Police Log scared me at first, but in the short time I’ve lived here, I’ve come to realize they’re mostly benign. The “unwanted person” who keeps appearing at other people’s houses has never turned up at mine.
So when I glanced out my window and happened to see a furtive figure slinking alongside my house, I wasn’t unduly alarmed. I casually moved in the general direction of the mysterious being, looking out the windows along that side of the house. Once again, the stealthy fellow slipped past my view.
Now brimming with curiosity, I headed out through the back door. And there he was — my neighbor, crouching under our tangly, low-to-the-ground canadensis pendula, also known as a weeping hemlock tree. He wasn’t hiding. Indeed, he wasn’t trying to keep quiet at all. I believe what I heard was muttering and cursing, possibly in a foreign language, but I can’t be sure. Whatever he was saying, it was mostly drowned out by the clucking, cackling, and screeching of the chicken he was chasing.
Well, chasing is perhaps too generous a term.
The chicken seemed to be extremely smart. She knew when to hold up, when to fold up, when to walk away, when to run. This chicken had a sense of exactly which branches to dodge under — and at precisely which moment at which to do her dodging — in order to make her pursuer suffer the greatest possible damage to his hands and arms, by way of all the nasty, scrapey-scratchy little hemlock branches and all that nasty, scrapey-scratchy hemlock bark.
Of course, in such a situation, where a fellow member of the human race is struggling or suffering in some way, I responded instinctively.
I thought, This will be good for a column.
At about that same moment, my neighbor looked up to see me observing his dilemma.
He froze for a moment, reading my mind, and arched an eyebrow.
“This is just between us, Doug,” he said evenly.
I immediately assured him that his secret was safe with me.
How could I even think of writing a newspaper column exposing my beloved neighbor for being outfoxed by a chicken?
There is, in reality, no danger of my revealing the identity of a neighbor who owns chickens, because so many of my neighbors own chickens. My family and I have thought about getting chickens ourselves, but it’s pointless. We’re surrounded by chickens — as well as cats, dogs, and at least one goat.
And these are free-range chickens. These are Chickens Without Borders. This is Ipswich Unfenced. Chickens are in our yard all the time, pecking around underneath our bird feeders and scratching away at what remains of our garden. It’s sort of a chicken trick-or-treat.
We love all the neighbors’ chickens. It makes us feel like gentleman farmers, but without having to clean the coop.
In fact, I am a fan of letting animals go feral. It works for the turkeys. It works for deer. It works for groundhogs and raccoons and coyotes. Why not feral chickens?
(A feral goat might cause problems — if it eats your garage. On the other hand, if you had my decrepit garage, and enough insurance to replace it, a garage-eating goat might be a blessing.)
My neighbor eventually cornered his quarry and hauled it off (upside-down, by its legs), grumbling something about “going in the pot.”
But the next day, I glanced across at another property, and saw my neighbor’s wife chasing yet another fugitive fowl.
As a courtesy, I looked away.
But the fiasco was not to be avoided.
Still later in the day, I saw her zigzagging across yet another property, outpaced by her too-quick cackler.
It seems sad and unnecessary to see people pursuing poultry.
Let your chickens go.
We need some hen-Zen.