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Hen Song

From GENE LOGSDON

For many years I could not understand why the sound of singing hens soothed me so much. Hen song is hardly melodic, being composed of two or three notes at most. It is plaintive in fact, a far cry from the bubbling warble of a bluebird or the soaring lilt of a meadowlark. Hen song is plainsong, equivalent to the way any of us might hum our way through the humble chores of daily life. It is quite different from the excited cackles that Mrs. Hen voices to announce that she has just laid an egg or been surprised by a cat. Nor is there any hint in it of her sharp warning cry when a hawk flies over. Hen song only keeps from slipping into humdrum because if often comes pouring forth from Mrs. Hen in a burst of what sounds like pure exultation at just being alive on a warm spring day and knowing that on her very next scratching in the soil, she is going to turn up a juicy worm to eat. You never hear hen song when the temperature is near zero and the north wind is blowing.

Hen song has even influenced human song on occasion. The Cackle Sisters, Carolyn and Mary Jane DeZurick, were quite popular fifty years ago. In their singing, mostly yodeling, they often imitated the music of the barnyard, especially hen song. Hence their stage name. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, their music enjoyed a bit of resurgence about five years ago. Interestingly I heard them on National Public Radio, hardly a country music station.

I finally figured out why singing hens cast a spell of tranquility over me. It’s not because the sound is a harbinger of a nice warm day free of hen stress although that may be a contributing factor. It is because as a child, playing around our farmhouse, hardly two hundred feet from the chicken coop, I was unconsciously hearing hen song all day long. Oh sure, there were days when Mom and Dad had a distinct difference of opinion on something, or the cows got out, or a storm blew over, or I felt the gnawing grown-up fear of possibly losing the farm, or of Dad having to go off to World War II. But mostly I lived a peace-filled life, seemingly endless days free of all the feverishly supervised school, sport and social activity that children now have to cope with. Mom was always nearby (she was always singing too), and Dad no farther away than the fields roundabout. They never hovered over me protectively. They didn’t have to. They were close enough to keep an eye out. I had siblings to play with. We rarely felt bored. On a farm there are so many opportunities for adventure, make-believe and mischief. All that time, I was soaking up enough hen song to carry me through the troubling years later on. That music in my memory kept telling me, unconsciously, that there were places where it could still be heard, and that I could find one of those places again.

And so it turned out. Now on warm spring days, I can hear hen song right outside the window here where I write. Sometimes, in fact, I almost hear too much of it, and know those dratted hens have been scratching in the garden again.

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