May 19, 2011 by wcobserver
by Denele Pitts Campbell
The game hens we ended up with were as bad if not worse than the Banties we already had, as far as going wherever they pleased and being completely beyond our control. In spite of extreme wing clipping that mostly contained the Bantams, the game hens couldn’t be kept in a pen. If I could have given them back to the people who gave them, I would have, but they had given up their game cock project. One of them remained a patriarch of the mountain, but his partner had moved on, so there was no going back.
Over the next couple of years we had learned to spread chicken wire over the tomato crop to keep out these roaming pecking machines. It seemed a reasonable expectation that summer as the tomato crop ripened in the heat of August that we’d have a great crop. I sat out the big pots on the kitchen counter ready for making ketchup and went to the garden. But as I neared the plants where just yesterday beautiful red tomatoes had been hanging thick, I discovered with skyrocketing blood pressure that one or more ambitious game hens had managed to maneuver underneath the wire. As I moved from plant to plant in disbelief, I saw they had pecked huge gaping holes in virtually every tomato in the field.
These fiends were not of Ahab’s original flock, but rather interlopers of indistinct ancestry. I felt no affection, only fury. I muttered and cursed in the process of harvesting the mangled and gutted tomatoes. So many months planning, sweating, mulching, hoeing in goat dung and pulling weeds on this plot of land to provide a year’s supply of sauce, ketchup, and canned tomatoes—I envisioned all the things I would do as soon as I found the culprits. I would chase them til they fell exhausted. I would herd them into the pond. I would drop kick them across the garden. I would hold them each by turn and thump their featured heads until they were addled so badly they couldn’t remember how to get to the garden.
I caught a feathered movement in the corner of my eye. It was a single hen moving with all deliberation in a nearby row, crawling and clucking from tomato to tomato among the luxuriant vines. Happily pecking away, her russet and green and golden feathers glistening in the brilliant sun, she continued to decimate my hard won crop in front of my very eyes. I was apoplectic.
Finding absolutely no reason to practice restraint for a chicken not even of my own tribe, I left the garden in a rush and raced up the hillside path to the house. I made sure my rifle had a full load of bullets before running back down the hill. At the edge of the woods, I paused to take aim, expecting to see her still nearby among the tomatoes. But she was not there. (to be continued)
Denele Pitts Campbell is a writer, restauranteur, and businesswoman. She lives in the Mineral Springs community near West Fork.