Three things that come to mind when I think of Arkansas are Wal-Mart, Razorbacks and chickens. If you’ve ever driven through Arkansas you know that the chicken population is greater than the human population. And I mean in number. There are chicken farms or ranches down every road and around every corner.
If you have never seen a chicken farm, the chickens are raised in a fairly narrow yet rather long metal building, usually resembling a Quonset hut. Almost always there is a giant fan attached to one end of the building. I think the fan is used for defeathering the chickens.
As a kid we drove past many chicken farms on our way to our favorite camping spot on top of our favorite mountain. Usually the whole family would ride in my granddaddy’s little Datsun truck. He and Grandmother in front and all us kids in the bed. Granddaddy sometimes had a camper shell on back so the wind wouldn’t blow us out. Behind the truck would be the pop up camper trailer. One year we took the truck and the car (also a Datsun). Granddaddy of course drove the truck and my uncle drove the car. The kids, this year, rode in the car. I don’t remember ever taking two vehicles before this or after this. It must have been Providence, if for no other reason than so I can write this story.
As we travelled those scenic, winding roads through the hills of Arkansas past so many cookie cutter chicken farms my brothers and I were staring out the windows, day dreaming, half asleep, warm wind blowing in our faces, not aware of much. Without notice my uncle snapped us back to reality as he quickly stopped the car while coming out of a rather sharp curve. He leapt out of the car and began chasing a chicken that had undoubtedly escaped the farm we’d just stopped in front of. My uncle, being the accomplished poultry wrangler, wasted no time corralling the poor old hen and depositing her in the car with us, robbing her of her new found , short lived freedom.
At that point it’s not clear who wanted to be in that tiny Datsun less: the country hen or us city boys. She rode shotgun. That might have been the first time any of my brothers or I had ever voluntarily given up front seat. We made the remainder of the trip (45 minutes or so) in complete silence. We huddled together in back not taking our eyes off that hen as if we’d picked up some raptor intent on ripping the flesh off our faces and pecking out our eyes.
Once we arrived at Bard Springs my brothers and I couldn’t get out of that car fast enough. We flew out both doors putting a safe distance between us and the hen. She, however, had seemingly grown content there in the front floorboard. In reality, she was probably scared to death and thought maybe that was the safest place she could be.
My uncle extricated the frightened little chicken from the car and let her roam around as we all set up camp. He seemed sure she wouldn’t wander off. My brothers and I kept one eye on that killer the whole time, certain she was out for blood… ours.
After the popup trailer had been popped up and everything else had been placed in its place my uncle decided it was time to take care of the hen: to prepare her for dinner.
We, by brothers and I, had never seen a chicken killed. We weren’t real thrilled with seeing it now. My uncle fetched his razor sharp hatchet and went to catch the hen. However, the hen, which earlier was easy to catch, seemed to know what was coming. She ran and fought and jumped and flew to escape the man with the ax. We had such a good time watching (but not helping) my uncle chase that little hen until he was completely wore out. Finally he gave up on the hatchet and retrieved Granddaddy’s .22 caliber pistol from under the seat of the truck. The hen was one step ahead. Each campsite had a picnic table sitting on a concrete slab. She had found sanctuary under the table of the site adjacent to ours. She seemed to know he wouldn’t dare shoot the gun at her as long as she stayed on the concrete. She was right. After a while he gave up and replaced the pistol in its hiding place and we left her and went about other activities.
When she finally felt the danger was no longer eminent the little hen bolted from under the table into the underbrush of the hill that ran down to the creek. There she remained just out of reach until she disappeared never to be seen by us again.
I’m sure I’m reading a lot more into that hen and her plight to live than what’s really there. I know this beyond doubt: she had a will to live and be free. I picture in my mind that one day in a long, steamy, overcrowded Quonset hut in the midst of thousands of other chickens destined to be dinner, one little hen for some reason lifted her head. And when she did she happened to look up between the blades of the giant fan at the end of the building and she saw sky. It was so brilliant and crystal blue and clean. Completely different than all that she had ever known. As she was transfixed and couldn’t remove her gaze from the beauty she now knew, a hawk gracefully glided from one side of the opening to the other… now, for the first time her heart was free. She had purpose… she wanted to be free and to soar.
Somehow, she managed to escape that farm and my uncle’s attempts to make her a meal. She tasted freedom and life and nothing, no one would take it from her.
People often remain in spiritual bondage and death, like all those chickens in all those farms. Heads down, pecking and clucking never knowing real life and freedom. Lift your head and find that Christ has given you life!