Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Chicken Little

A few years ago I wrote a year's worth of columns for a local newspaper. You can read some of them at rfd.karleklund.net. Here's one.

. . . .

I don't know why, but 1 get a lot of pleasure watching chickens wandering around scratching the dirt. Some of it must have been useful, I suppose: if they hadn't we'd probably have had more bugs than we did. But they won't touch potato bugs and they aren't that fond of squash bugs either. and one summer the chickens got to all of the early tomatoes before 1 did. So it must be at least partly aesthetic.

Ours were pretty, even if they were a mongrel crew. Our roosters are part Aracana, so aside from the dozen we got as chicks from the 4H exhibit at the county fair, and the banties we were given by someone who didn't like their habit of roosting in trees, the new generation shows traits of various breeds.

It may give them hybrid vigor, it certainly makes them more individual. But even I wouldn't call them bright, and they were certainly excitable. If you walk where they are they'll try to sidle away, but if they find themselves in a blind alley they'll give one hell of a ''scrawrk" and fling themselves into space as best they can. Which isn't all that graceful.

But one such incident did remind me of an old folktale that l'd like to share with you.
. . . .

A sparrow, seeing a motion in the sky that she took for a hawk, dropped the piece of bread she was carrying home to her babies. It fell to earth and dropped right on the head of Chicken Little: who was engaged in grubbing out lunch.

"Ouch" said Chicken Little, "something hit me on the head." She made a few more scratches.

"But there isn't anyone around." she continued to herself. "and l'm not under an oak tree. I remember that grandfather said that an acorn fell on his head, once, and he got all excited and ran to tell the King that the sky was falling. Boy! Did it ever take him a long time to live that one down!"

Her scratches grew absent-minded—gestures of habit, like when you pull at your beard when you are thinking. She continued her ruminatory soliloquy.

"But there are no oak trees around now. And nothing else, either!"

The sparrow had long since vanished. "This time the sky MUST be falling!"

She started running, crying: "The sky is falling. the sky is falling!"

She bumped into Gander-Lander. ''Gander-Lander. Gander-Lander, the sky is falling"

"Oh, my goodness." said Gander-Lander, "Oh, my goodness." He started to run around in a small circle saying "Oh, my goodness" over and over.

Chicken Little was taken aback. She appreciated that Gander-Lander was concerned, but this didn't seem to be solving the problem. She might be running and crying out, but she had a direction. So she left Gander-Lander to his circles and ran to Piggy-Wiggy.

"Piggy-Wiggy, Piggy-Wiggy, the sky is falling."

"Wurgm" said Piggy-Wiggy, opening one eye halfway.

"Don't you understand?" asked Chicken Little, anxiously.

Piggy-Wiggy opened both his eyes and put his snout in the trough. With his mouth impolitely full of swill he said. "I'm all right Jack, grunt you!" and turned his back.

Chicken Little was understandably both offended and disgusted. And getting a little desperate. She ran to the barn. "Horsey-Lorsey, Horsey-Lorsey" she screamed. "The sky is falling!"

"That is certainly a matter for serious concern." said Horsey-Lorsey, buttoning the vest of his threepiece harness. "And if I had the time 1 would certainly apply my extensive experience to helping you create an appropriate, sensitive but hard-hitting public awareness campaign. But right now I have an important business appointment in the South Forty and that will keep me very busy for a few days. Why don't we do lunch next week and run it up the flagpole and see who salutes." He turned back to the mirror and adjusted his collar.

Well, that kind of calm acceptance dampened Chicken Little's excitement a little, but she figured that she might as well make the date for lunch anyway. After all, Horsey-Lorsey was a solid citizen, wasn't he?.

But she still felt, as she watched Horsey-Lorsey amble off fo the fields, that it wasn't enough. Something should be done now. And then she thought of the police. Didn't they handle emergencies? So the ran to the police station.

She ran through the door shouting:"Fuzzy-Wuzzy, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, the sky is falling!"

"What was that you said?" Growled the burly desk sergeant, hall rising from his chair. (He hated hippies.)

"Oh. Sorry, officer. I would like to report that the sky is falling."

"Your name?"

"Chicken Little."


"What difference does that make?" said Chicken Little frustratedly.

"Just give me your address."

"Oh, all right. The Chicken Coop @ MacDonald's Farm."

"1 see. And you want to report that the sky is falling?"

"Yes, yes. What are you going to do about it?"

"I'm afraid that that is out of our jurisdiction. Have you seen the Board of Health?" And without waiting for an answer the nice policeman turned and began typing up a report of the incident.

Chicken Little went over to the Town Hall, mumbling to herself, but when she got there she found from the Clerk that the Board of Health only met on the third Thursday of every month, and today was the fourth Monday. It might not be possible to get a sky question on the warrant, it being the season for perk tests, but they'd try. Had she tried the Conservation Commission?

But Chicken Little had had enough. Chicken Little trudged back to the Coop, too exhausted even to mumble. It had been a trying day. She considered going to see the King, but what she had seen of the Governor on TV hadn't impressed her. [The name of the Governor of Massachusetts at the time was "King".] It would be the Town Clerk all over again. If that.

"Oh. well." she said to herself. "maybe I was just being a silly chicken anyway. Like Grandfather."

But that hadn't been a hawk that the sparrow had seen-it was a piece of the sky falling. The next day the rest of it fell and squashed everyone flat.

MORAL: listen to the message and not the messenger.

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