I watched this PBS show the other night called The Natural History of Chickens. It was a little cheesy and I was laughing through most of it. Then it ended on a story about Liza the Chicken and I had to share it. I hope you enjoy it. C A L L M E C H I C K E N By L. Joseph Tauer Its strange how we pick up certain expressions. From the time I was a little kid, one ofthe worst forms of derision was to be called, Chicken. The quickest way to get a fightstarted was to use this name against a target of ridicule. The implication was alwaysthat a chicken was a coward, or lacking in courage. As a youngster, I never questioned the origins of the label nor did I challenge the ideathat to be chicken was in some way inferior or otherwise lacking in desirablecharacteristics. That concept held until I had what intellectuals like to call a paradigmshift, an abrupt change in thinking.Many people have never really known a chicken, I mean the feathered bird commonlyfound on farms, I have been fortunate to be around chickens much of my life and haveformed a close bond with several. One of the more memorable was Liza, for she wasresponsible for one of my true paradigm shifts. Liza was a Japanese silky bantam. She was about half the size of the average barnyardhen, but big in her love for life as well as her indefatigable determination. Her featherswere snow-white, fluffyalmost fur-likeand perpetually disheveled. A patch offeathers perched atop her head like a comical crown. Her dark eyes sparkled with lifeand, as I later realized, a great depth of chicken wisdom. One aspect of her life, however, seemed to elude Liza: motherhood. She laid eggsregularly, tiny bantam eggs not much larger than marbles. But her diminutive size puther at a great disadvantage with the other chickens, and the larger hens alwayscrowded her out of the nests before the required twenty-one-day incubation period. As the eggs hatched, the new mothers would introduce their brood to the world aroundthem. Much to the dismay of the hens, Liza would attempt to take over the duties ofmother, even to the point of chick-napping the youngsters. As a result, she took agreat deal of abuse from the other hens when they would eventually lose their patienceand drive Liza away with pecks and blows from their feet and wings. But Liza wouldalways return and, with a calculated display of casualness, inject herself back into thepastoral scene of family oneness.I felt compassion for Liza, sensing how desperately she wanted to experiencemotherhood. I attempted to help her by making a nest away from the others. Lizareadily accepted it and began laying eggs. However, I soon discovered the eggs brokenand the contents eaten, either by a possum or a skunk. Another time the eggs simplydisappeared, evidence that a snake had dined out. Liza began exhibiting signs of great distress. She erratically checked empty nests,unsuccessfully attempted to bully the larger hens, and clucked in a strange monotonous way. Realizing that something had to be done, I constructed a miniature chickenhouse, complete with all the amenities: food, water and a private nest that would bethe envy of any chickens eye. The sides were covered with safety wire to keep outpredators. Liza settled into her new house and immediately began depositing eggs in the nest atthe rate of one a day until she had six. She then went into the setting mode, pluckingfeathers from her breast to line the nest and expose her warm, moist skin to the eggs. She assumed that patient air of waiting, sitting on her six precious eggs, clucking in ano-nonsense tone that signaled a purpose in life. Finally, in the time prescribed by that universal clock, the eggs began to hatch. Thebaby chicks were unbelievably small. It was difficult to count them, for they seemed todisappear almost immediately into the fluffy feathers beneath Lizas wings and breast. And never was a mother more devoted, more thrilled, or more suited to the task athand. Liza fairly glowed with the pride and joy of motherhood. I kept the little family in their confined space for a few days, reluctant to allow them outinto the real world, filled with so much danger. Liza pleaded with every motion of herbody and every blink of her shining, dark eyes to take her new family out into theworld, She paced back and forth at the door until I gave in and opened their lives to aworld filled with green grass, the warm, moist earth, and more juicy bugs than most ofus care to know about. Where I saw danger, Liza saw only opportunity. True to my expectations, Liza was the ideal mother. She showed her little family thevery best places to search for seeds and grain. She demonstrated the correct methodof rolling and kicking in the dust to properly protect the skin and feathers againstparasites. In and instant, she could turn from the coddling, soft mother into ascreeching bundle of fury if perceived danger came within her circle of protection. From sunup to sundown, she was tireless in searching out the very best for her brood.I felt quite good about the perfection of it allthe absolute order in Gods universe, thedemonstration of life as it should be. I took pride in the care I had given in assistingGod and Liza in this rather difficult task. It was during one of those moments ofreflection that I was shocked into a broader understanding of our true relationship withGods creatures.As I stood one morning, looking out over the field beyond our kitchen window andabsently watching the scattered groups of chickens going about their routine, I saw theentire community of chickens freeze. Every motion and every sound seemed to stop inmid-cluck. Whatever form of communication was used, it was instantaneous andunquestioned. The total population of chickens scattered across the field reacted with one mind as a blur of feathered bodies dived beneath any available cover: wheelbarrows, woodpiles, bushes, and small trees. I knew this activity indicated theclose presence of a hawk.Then, something caught my eye. It was Liza! Snow-white, a standout in any field, shereacted instinctively as all the others had. All movement seemed to grind into slowmotion. As if in a different dimension of time, I saw the sweep of a dark shadowstreaking across the ground, on a direct line of convergence with Liza. I saw the lookof panic in Lizas dark eyes as she started to run for the overhang of the chicken house. Suddenly the same thought struck us both. The babies!I vicariously lived the agonizing moment with Liza as she broke stride and turned backto the six tiny chicks still pecking in the grass, oblivious in their infancy to the eventhappening around them. With one command from Liza, the babies instantly rushedbeneath her outstretched wings. Liza settled in over them, flattening into the grass asmuch as possible. The look of panic was gone. I have tried to interpret the expressionI saw come over her. Was it resignation? Perhaps surrender? Or was it releasing andputting the outcome into the hands of a higher power? Into my field of view from the window came a brown bolt from the sky. The shadowand the patch of white blended almost instantaneously into one point. The hawk hadstruck with such force that an explosion of white erupted from the ground. Then withthe grace and beauty of Gods creation and without breaking stride, the hawk continuedon. A trail of with feathers fell from clutched talons as the hawk disappeared throughthe trees. It was over.Stunned and amazed at the swiftness of change, I left the kitchen and headed for thepoint of impact, hoping that perhaps the babies had survived the hit. As I slowly andreluctantly walked toward the spot, I was impacted by the immensity of what Iperceived to have happened. I had just witnessed a chicken perform a deed that wouldmake headlines if the same act had been performed by a human. I had observed anindividual make a truly life-and-death decision. Liza had overcome the so-calledsurvival instinct and, with precision of forethought, offered her life for another. Thephrase entered my mind, No greater love.Perhaps behind my thoughts was a lurking fear. Would I have measured up? Here wasa creature that many educated and philosophic people have declared not only to haveno soul, but to be without the capability of thinking or reasoning. Yet, Chicken, judgedand found lacking by humans, had just performed the supreme heroic and selfless act. I had just experienced a shift in consciousness. I had just observed that the courageand integrity of Chicken was unsurpassed and beyond reproach. I was humbled formyself and for my species.