The Editorland Diaries: Chicken rescuing in Estill Springs

By Tabitha Evans Moore | EDITOR & PUBLISHER

Saving animals you find along the backroads is kind of like the first potty break during two-for-one night down at the local bar. Once you break the seal, you lose all control.

My one-woman Snow White gig started innocently enough with turtles 20 years ago when I moved back to Lynchburg. See, there aren’t many backroads in the places like New Orleans, Tuscaloosa, and Birmingham. So while living there, I kind of got out of the habit. But being a small town newspaper editor means you travel a lot of backroads early in the morning and at dusk, when wildlife movement is at it’s peak.

It’s not unusual for me to stop once maybe twice going from point A to point B to help one of my hard-shelled friends make it safely across a busy road. They’re usually box turtles, who roam less than two acres their entire lives, but I’ve been known to rescue a grumpy snapping turtle. I even carry work gloves and broken broom handle in my trunk for this express purpose. The gloves keep me from getting bit. The broom handle gives the snapping turtle something else to bite. If you gently grab them by tail, it’s no big deal.

Chicken whispering on Highway 41A

A couple of weeks ago, I graduated from turtles to chickens. Let me explain.

It happened around 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday as I drove back to my office after a dermatology appointment. Not far out of the city limits of Estill Springs, I noticed a white hen laying on the asphalt on the right side of the road just before the Dollar General.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t all that surprised. Estill Springs gives off a Stranger Things vibe to me when it comes to animals. They don’t behave as expected.

There’s a family of groundhogs that are constantly foraging on the side of the road near the Rock Creek intersection. Doesn’t matter what time I drive by, there is always at least one groundhog in sight and he/she is completely unbothered by tractor trailer trucks whizzing by at 45 miles per hour. They just sit their on their furry little rumps, arms crossed in front of them like grumpy old men, watching traffic.

It’s also completely normal to see a half a dozen chickens grazing on the north side of the four lane road. I find it weird but they seem perfectly happy, so maybe the grain trucks that travel from Elora to The Jack Daniel Distillery spill a little corn along the way.

On Tuesday, I spotted one of them, a white hen, laying on the asphalt on the opposite side. She didn’t appear to be in obvious distress but as I drove past my conscious screamed at me, “You can’t just leave her there to suffer. If she’s going to die, that’s fine. But she should be allowed to do so in the grassy shade on her side of the road.”

I whipped a U-turn, turned on my hazards, and eased unto the shoulder of the road facing traffic and approached her gingerly. At first, I feared she’d already passed, so I nudged her gently with my foot. She glared at me.

Fair enough, I thought as I began to carry on a complete conversation with a chicken on the side of Highway 41 A.

“Listen, I’m not sure what’s going on but you can’t sit here,” I told her. “It’s going to be nearly 80 degrees today and sunny. This isn’t a great idea.”

She turned her head away from me in a “whatever lady” gesture.

Okay, be that way, I thought as I reached down to gently pick her up. That’s when my previously docile, potentially injured chicken turned into a Quentin Tarintino character. Feathers flew everywhere as she flapped her wings to get away from me. Then, she ran into the middle of the the fourlane highway and paced in small, concise circles.

No good deed goes unpunished, I thought as I followed her — forcing a half dozen oncoming vehicles to a dead halt.

Someone is Facebook posting about me right now, I thought. Then, I had an idea. Perhaps I could herd her across the road like a sheep. Yeah, that didn’t work. Instead, she kept running back towards me.

“Little one,” I told her because folks likely already thought I was crazy. A little animal whispering wasn’t gonna matter. “Listen, you’ve got to let me pick you up. I don’t like it anymore than you do but it’s not safe here. You have to let me get you to a cool, shaded place so you can recover.”

And that’s when Little Miss Chicken Butt sat down pretty as you please in the middle of the highway. It was quite the Dr. Doolittle moment. A middle aged guy in a Honda Accord sat in the left lane with a front row seat to this episode of Tab’s Highway Adventures. When she sat, I looked at him for confirmation. He just shrugged and gave me a big grin.

That’s when I reached down and gently picked up, Henrietta. We’d spent a good 15 minutes together at this point and so I involuntarily named her. I do that. My dad once thought about buying a calf from a local farmer, raising it at his County Line home, and then slaughtering it for meat.

“Dad, you have four daughters and we’re all near Buddhists when it comes to animals. If you bring it here and we make eye contact and name it, you’ll never ever be allowed to kill it on purpose.”

He instantly saw the wisdom in my logic and changed his mind.

So, I reached down and gently picked up Henrietta by holding her gently above both her wings, then I brought her to my chest and placed a hand under her belly for support. I’m the city girl version of a country girl. My idea of roughing it is a Mariott and I use my stove for sweater storage but I still grew up in Lynchburg. I know how to hold a chicken. I just choose not to.

And I swear, Henrietta nestles into my chest. I noticed blood on her head but I didn’t even care.

“It’s okay. I got you. We’re gonna get you across the road and find you a nice place to rest.”

As I started to walk across all four lanes of traffic towards a shady spot under a tree, a woman in Corvette flagged me down.

“Did she get hit? I know her owner. They live just right over there,” she said and I felt relief. Maybe Henrietta would make it.

“I’m not sure,” I explaned. “She was just sitting on the side of the road. I think she’s stunned and she’s got a couple of cuts and scraps but based on the amount of fight she gave me, I don’t think she’s seriously injured.”

That’s when the woman took Henrietta from my arms and headed back to her t-topped Corvette. She wore a Kiss t-shirt and never removed the Marlboro Light from her mouth.

“I’ll take her home. Thank you,” she said.

And I swear to Baby Jesus I almost cried standing right there on the side of the road.

Two weeks later, I found an injured hen on a sharp curve on Highway 50 just before you reach Tims Ford Dam. She sat helpless in the middle of the road and I couldn’t just leave her there. So I grabbed a towel from my trunk — once I graduated from turtles to chickens, I added it to my animal saving kit — and picked her up. Then I walked down the steep bank to place her in a grassy, shaded spot near the other chickens. I knocked on the nearest door to let them know she was hurt, but no one answered.

Both instances got me thinking about how important it is to show kindness to every living creature especially when they find themselves in distress or accidentally in the wrong place. From drug addicts to refugees to our own family members, it’s important to show grace to others in their worst moments. To do otherwise is just cruel. Unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, you don’t know what you’d do either.

Did Henrietta survive? I choose the believe so. Now, as I approach the Estill Springs Dollar General, I cue up I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor and roll down the windows. She knows who I am 😉 •

Until next week, love ya. Mean it. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We tells the stories of local folks here in Lynchburg as well as those happening across Tennessee and the American South that we believe may be of interest to our readers. Like what we’re doing? You can support us for just $5 per month by following this link.}

Comments are closed.