~by Jill Clingan
A couple of weeks ago I rushed out my back door because I heard my ducks quacking, in great distress, by the back porch. Our boy duck, Dave, was missing, and the girl ducks were very upset. We searched and searched, but we found no trace of him anywhere. Then, two days later, I opened my front door to find a bobcat in my front yard with Gracie Gold, one our favorite chickens, in its mouth.
We are ridiculously attached to our chickens and ducks, so when one of them dies, it’s a big deal around here. We are sad. We cry. I start another obsessive round of research for keeping predators away. We keep the chickens and ducks stuck in their chicken run a lot more, which they hate. When we let them out, we run an extension cord into the woods and play pop music to keep the bobcat away, assuming, that is, that the bobcat doesn’t like pop music. We have a bobcat trap nestled in the woods. We drag lawn chairs out to the coop in the evening and “chicken sit” as our chickens and ducks meander their way to bed (sometimes I get some reading done, too!).
It feels so important to me to keep our animals safe partly because I love them, but also because I need to feel safe out here. We live at the end of a private road surrounded by horses and cows and trees and a big, big sky. This space is my Eden, really.
It’s peaceful. It’s beautiful. Just walking around our property untangles my soul. Right this very minute I am hidden in our woods, writing. Hans, our big Great Pyranees/Anatolian Shepherd, is lying at my feet. In this moment I feel like all is idyllic and peaceful and beautiful.
But I worry.
Last week I spent a very long time talking to my spiritual director about my chicken and duck worries. Inevitably, when talking about my poultry worries, the thread of conversation turned to my own worries. I get frustrated at my chickens sometimes, because they don’t worry nearly enough. Within twenty minutes of Gracie being snatched up by the bobcat, several chickens were back down in the woods, wandering along the creek and munching on worms. I wanted to herd them back into the coop, but they would have none of that. The bugs and worms outside the run are, apparently, markedly tastier than the bugs and worms inside the run.
For a few days, we left them in the coop all day, and only let them out in the evening when we could watch them. They despise being left in their run all day, and they complain about it. Loudly and bitterly. When we let them out of the run they run and fly as fast as their little chicken legs and heavy chicken wings can carry them. They have no fear.
And I’m envious of them, in a way.
They would rather risk their lives and be free than be safely locked inside their coop and run. Me, on the other hand? Well, I often prefer the safety of my metaphorical chicken run. I convince myself that the bugs are just as good inside my cage as outside of it. And I hang out there, safe…but not free.
When I was talking to my spiritual director and comparing the literal chicken coop that my chickens bunch up at the door to burst out of and the metaphorical coop that I hunker down in, I used the words “being brave versus being braced.”
My tendency is to live braced.
I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am always afraid to try something new because the odds of failing are insurmountable. I ask too many “what if” questions: What if I get hurt? What if I mess up? What will people think? I tell myself that I am just thinking things through—that I am just being safe and cautious and only need a bit more time for a bit more research. And I stay stuck there. In that cage. Braced.
But I think that in the meantime, my soul wants freedom, she wants life, she wants to be brave, and she is standing by the door to the cage that I stick her in, just longing to get out.
This is what my soul knows: she knows that when I am braced, just waiting for that other shoe to drop, just waiting for that bobcat to sneak up behind me, I am not free.
But when I am brave, I run out of that chicken coop as if my life depended on it.
And maybe it does.