A Small Life Saved

We had an interesting encounter in school this week, something entirely spontaneous. On Wednesday, during the kids' morning break, they discovered a chick that was trapped between a post and some boards in the coop. Apparently, no one had noticed that morning when the door was first opened. It was a bad situation, and the chick appeared exhausted and terrified. Her wing was arched over her head, and it was impossible to tell if she had broken a bone, was bleeding, or what. I tried a few simple things, but she was hopelessly pinned, and any pushing or pulling I could do would only have torn her apart.

The kids have known about countless chicks and chickens that have died or been eaten. It doesn't faze them much. But witnessing the direct suffering of this bird was an intolerable feeling for all of us.

The chick must have gone in one side, then gotten spooked when she couldn't back up. Over night, probably terrified, she had managed to wedge herself a little further forward, then further, but there was no way out. At some point, she must have freed a wing, only to then be unable to retract it. It wasn't a pretty sight.

The kids were adamant that we had to do something. I wasn't sure we could. One fetched a little bit of food, which the chick eagerly pecked from her hand. Another went for a container of water. It was a heavy, but soulful moment. Finally, seeing no other choice, I decided to try to knock the boards out. I have previously dealt with a little bit of the handiwork of the man who built this coop. He didn't half-ass anything. The chick was actually pinned between the post of the coop, originally a storage shed, and the clapboard siding. We're talking about an inch of space, max. The post wasn't going anywhere, and I later learned that each fastening point had six ten-penny nails anchored tight.

I got a hammer. The only location to strike out that board was about two inches above the bird's head. I had to hit it with all my strength. Repeatedly. Talk about trauma. The chick was in severe shock. The kids clenched. Finally, the board gave way a couple inches, giving the chick some relief, but not freeing it. The next board would have to come out too. Having no angle from inside, I got a pick-axe and used the flat end to pry the boards out from the back side. I can't tell you how long and strange and delicate this entire encounter was. Finally, I managed to pull apart the second board. "She's out!" the kids cried from inside.

After nailing the boards back to the post, I walked back around to the inside. "She's really tired," one child said. "Can she walk?" I asked. "Yes," another answered, "but she's wobbly."

We brought her into the greenhouse and made a little nest for her in a box. She had some dried blood on one leg, but there was no obvious fracture. Whether she had broken a rib or not was impossible to tell. Occasionally, she stood up, took an unbalanced step, then settled back down. She appeared exhausted, and her tail feathers were soiled with lots of wet, gray poop, probably from all the fear she had experienced through the night, including when a giant ape began hammering above her head. "We need to let her rest," someone said. We all agreed. Setting up some food and water in her box, we said a little prayer and hoped for the best.

After almost an hour, we returned to the classroom. Earlier in the day, we had been reading notes from Zippy, a stuffed fairy that lives outside in a hollow rock, and Bingo, who lives in the Bingo box. The kids decided to write them notes asking for help. Their notes are usually a combination of drawings and words, plus the conversation involved. It’s a rich way for them to process their experiences, and to learn to read and write.

By the end of the day, we could tell the chick was doing better, but it wasn't till the following day that we put her back in the yard. Today, if it weren't for the little ribbon tied to her leg, we wouldn't be able to differentiate her from the others.

This is school as I envision it. We're engaged in learning the skills of life, but not at the exclusion of the rest of it. We're here. We have the time to adjust and pay attention. We don't box anything out, or in. I can imagine lots of schools visiting a farm and seeing the chicks. I can't imagine many where the children have an opportunity to be an active hand in saving one's life.

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