Chickens have brains the size of a pea, so I shouldn't have been surprised when one of my hens went to visit my dog. He found her delicious. I found her back leg and some feathers.
You cannot ignore death if you live on a farm. It surprises you at lambing time, when you reach inside a straining ewe to help bring a lamb into the world and bring instead a leg; the rest of the lamb still curled in utero having died yesterday. It breathes over your shoulder as you hold the halter so the vet can administer a lethal dose to a dying horse. It greets you with the news that your dog played too hard with the kitten and watches you nurse orphaned calves who die of pneumonia in spite of your tender care.
I have looked cattle in the face knowing that they would be a meal one day and worked up a deer who played in my meadow yesterday. Death feeds my family.
There’s a graveyard out in the pasture in front of my house. One stone is inscribed to Lillie E., a beloved daughter who died in 1884 of diphtheria. Gravestones all over the county tell the story of pioneer children who died young, sometimes whole families of them. Of pioneers who faced more than the death of livestock or the uncomfortable knowledge that the chicken in the pot recently crowed up the sun.
I grew up in the city where death was an abstract concept. It visited rarely, in tragedies like the heroic death of a teenage friend as he tried to save his brother from a fire, or in hospitals where grandparents walked in and were carried out. I did not know that death was just as much a part of life as joy and dancing and laughter. Here on the family farm, I have learned what the pioneers knew. We are here for a short time, and the living is sweeter because of the dying.