Air Date: Week of January 2, 1998
The discovery of dead animals put commentator Sy Montgomery in hot pursuit of an unidentified culprit. It all began early one Friday morning when Sy and her husband went to feed and water their eight chickens; and found only two of them alive.
CURWOOD: The discovery of dead animals put Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery in hot pursuit of an unidentified culprit. It all began early one Friday morning, when Sy and her husband went to feed and water their 8 chickens and found only 2 of them alive.
MONTGOMERY: They perched as if shellshocked over a scene of struggle and panic. Black and white bodies lay in piles of feathers, throats slashed. The feeder and water had been knocked over. From the position of the bodies, we could see one chicken had desperately tried to hide beneath a nest box. Another had tried to shield her neck by wedging it into a corner. In the past we'd lost members of the flock to foxes, skunks, dogs -- but we had never seen carnage like this.
A thin trail of blood led from a busted open little hatch door and over the snow. The culprit's tracks had been erased by the feathers of the victim as the body dragged behind. But even without tracks, we knew it must have been some weasel. A fisher, perhaps. We had known and loved these chickens since they'd been a day old, still shaped like eggs. The first few weeks of their lives they lived in my office. They were smart. They were free-ranging and they knew about predators. After a fox had carried off one of the flock last summer, 2 of the chickens insisted on roosting in trees all summer and deep into the fall.
That winter, afraid their combs would freeze, my husband and I finally convinced them it was safe to sleep in their coop. But we were wrong. They were right. The weasel, or whatever it was, was probably still around. So even though we would otherwise have let them spend the day free, we closed up the broken door real tight, thinking the survivors would be safer there. Again, we were wrong. The predator came back, not through the broken door but tunneled through the dirt. It killed the survivors before sundown.
We were too demoralized to even move the bodies that night. The next morning, early, we woke to a fresh snow. I went out to the chicken coop. And there in the gathering flakes were prints so fresh and perfect Scotland Yard would have loved them. Each of the 5 toes showed in perfect detail including the imprint of the nails. In the snow we could see the creature's grace and its joy. It had bounded playfully in the new snow from the barn yard into the woods. It had tunneled under fallen logs, skirted tree trunks, cleared a low stone wall. Finally, it came to the brook, slipped beneath the break in the ice, and swam away. It was a mink.
Later that day I retrieved the bodies of the last 2 chickens who I had loved. I couldn't begrudge the mink its appetites. I lay the bodies at the edge of the water, where the mink's tracks had disappeared: an offering on the altar of nature's mystery, where beauty and cruelty twine tight.
CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery comes to us courtesy of New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord.
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