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Years ago we had a neighbor named Tink Billings who always had a flock of hens running around his place. At night his hens would go in the barn to perch somewhere and Tink provided them with a few laying boxes for when they felt the urge to lay an egg. Most of the time, though, Tink’s birds wandered anywhere they pleased and seldom farther than his cluttered dooryard. Looking back I now realize that Tink’s chickens were “free-range” before that phrase was even invented.
It was fun to drive into Tink’s yard because the chickens would always make a big fuss about your arrival. All that squawking and flapping of wings made your arrival seem a lot more important than it really was.
Now, I don’t pretend to know how chickens think, but it always seemed curious to me that as my car approached Tink’s dooryard, the chickens hanging around on the left side of the driveway all thought at once that they’d probably be safer if somehow they could get over to the right side of the driveway; whereas the chickens who were already on the right side of the driveway became equally convinced that the safest place in the universe was in fact over on the left side. And so as my car approached, the two flocks would frantically flee across my path to the side they knew was the safest.
Once they reached whichever side, some of the hens would begin to have second thoughts and quickly conclude that the side they just left was really the safest side in the yard and so they would turn and flee across the driveway once again. Eventually the hens would realize that they really weren’t in much danger after all and so they’d return to what they had been doing before I drove in – pecking and scratching.
What’s the point? Well, you can call me crazy but I thought of Tink’s chickens the other day after reading a piece in a magazine about the people who are fleeing the cities in greater numbers and moving here to Maine for a better life. Many say they think of Maine as a safer place to raise a family.
Now, I’m not saying these people are like Tink’s free-range chickens, but like those chickens they’ve concluded that they’re in the wrong place and another place – like Maine – would be a lot better.
Thirty years ago – after reading Scott Nearing’s Living the Good Life – lots of twentysomethings decided they were in the wrong place and left their homes in the cities to the south and moved here to Maine and became farmers or potters.
After a few seasons of growing crops or throwing pots many of these people decided that life here was not for them and they packed up and moved back to where they came from. Others decided to just give up farming or making pottery and instead got regular paying jobs in one of our cities.
Even though Tink’s chickens probably had a brain about the size of a grain of organic brown rice, something in those brains made them conclude that whenever I drove in their yard it was time to move quickly to a safer place.
But none of those chickens was quick enough. The last I heard, Tink decided he’d had enough of his chickens and they all ended up in his freezer.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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