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Herding chickens 

"Here, let the Chicken Whisperer handle this. Just hold the door open a crack," my wife calmly instructed. Her voice changed as she turned to the frightened flock: "It's OK, babies—yes, climb up on your roost, sure."

A few minutes later, that soothing, nurturing tone coaxed five chickens into cardboard boxes for a bouncy ride to their new home.

Before we were married, way before kids and our life together took off, she had kept a wooden chair in our coop and watched the flock as a form of meditation. She kept a full moon journal.

Many generations of Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns and Plymouth Rocks later, we were on a sunset animal rescue mission in Chapel Hill. With our longtime neighbor, a Zen priest, who knew the back roads, and the full moon—a supermoon—rising in the east, how could we fail?

Well, first off, we arrived too early. The chickens were still enjoying their free-range home. On this gorgeous Carolina night, no one wanted to go to bed early. The clouds were racing, the evening breeze was rustling newly green leaves, and bugs were everywhere underfoot, savoring the season.

I was the most uncentered, impulsive chicken herder of our merry band. We were all giddy, surprised really, finding ourselves not doing the same-old, same-old on a Friday night. I tiptoed up to the first one and bent down. Boom, she was off—looking over her shoulder, cackling, "Who the hell are you?" The flock split up and dashed into the underbrush.

In our next conversation of herding strategies, I deferred to the women. "Let's not rush this. Let's walk around, take our time," they counseled. I nodded and got boxes ready.

An hour later I was coaxing and lifting each chicken out of her box and placing her on her new roost in our Hillsborough coop. It was the middle of the night for her, part of a very wild dream.

Our neighbor's daughter was having a baby and moving to a new house; she had thought of us as future guardians of her young chickens. Like every mom-to-be, she wanted every living thing in her life safe and cared for. She had named each baby chick as she watched them grow.

She told me later that it gave her peace of mind to know they were happy joining our chickens in our 30-year-old coop.

How can you tell if a chicken is happy? Right now, Mona, Starla, She-Ra, SG and MG are basking in the sun, surrounded by fresh clover and grass clippings and learning all the crazy routines of my spoiled, 6-year-old, prima donna flock.

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