For the last three years, I have been living in conditions that could be described as very similar to that of a chicken coop.
I reside on the 4th floor of a stairwell base housing unit on a US Army barracks in Germany. Our building looks almost identical to about 40 other housing units on this base, each one lined up neatly on patriotically named streets, within walking distance to the schools, commissary, and mail room, and all surrounded by a humongous fence.
However, it is not the appearance of this base that makes living here like living in a coop (truth be told, the fence and sterile buildings make this place more reminiscent of an asylum.) Nobody is throwing feed corn at us. No one has laid an egg as far as I know. But it is the pecking order that renders this place like an enormous cage full of clucking hens, strutting roosters and peeping chicks running wild.
When I moved here three years ago, I quickly became cognizant of this unique social order. As a new arrival, I took some time to nest, but after my rooster flew the coop for work and the chicks went off to school, boredom and loneliness set in.
I wandered the range in search of a flock to huddle with, but none could be found. Sure, there were hens everywhere (and a few stay-at-home roosters, I wouldn’t want to be sexist,) but I soon realized that I was at the bottom of the pecking order and would have to scratch and claw my way to roost with the others.
Careful not to count my chickens before they were hatched, I eventually laid the foundation for my social acceptance into the flock. By my second year, I was already familiar with most of the gaggle and was huddling with them, clucking away as we walked the chicks to school together, hatching plans for shopping trips, complaining about our wattles and chicken fat, and cackling on our shared patios.
I was securely perched at a comfortable elevation in the social pecking order, and life was generally good. As new chickens entered the coop, we chuckled from our high roost, fully aware of the work that they would need to do to find their places in our flock. Frankly, we got downright cocky.
Now, at the end of my third year of this tour, I must fly south and find a new flock in Florida. Thoughts of moving are leaving me a little wistful and reflective. I find myself pondering weighty ideas such as, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” and “Who came first, the chicken or the egg?”
This melancholy state has brought about a need for the comfort and companionship of the other hens in my coop, but alas, I have discovered that, as an outbound hen, I have been dumped back to the bottom of the pecking order! With only two weeks left in the coop, I find myself scratching for social scraps! How did this happen? Did I do something fowl?
After some thought in my pea-sized brain, I realized that I have become a lame duck in this chicken coop. I am no longer a contender in the social order simply because I am about to leave. As such, there is no reason for the other hens to invest valuable time in further incubating our friendship in this particular coop.
It’s not personal, there’s no reason to get my feathers ruffled, the sky isn’t falling. It’s just the way things work around here.
So as I prepare to take wing, I will thank my fine friends for their companionship, offer each a peck on the cheek, bid them a final cock-a-doodle-doo, and fly, fly away.