By Diane Ako
For months, we've noticed weird scratch marks in the garden. And by garden, I mean a raised box mostly full of dirt and weeds now that I work all the time and I neglect all but the most vital functions.
I have an herb garden near the front yard, and we fenced it off because my dog used to dig in it and rip up all the plants. It's a gerryrigged fence of plastic lattice. We are not engineers or carpenters. We can't put together anything using actual saws or nails.
This is held together with simple stakes, zip ties, and carabiners (kind of trailer, I know) so it bows out in the middle. That's where we've started to see a slight gap, as if someone's pushed their way in.
When Claus started noticing little scratch marks to go with it, he surmised Inca was sneaking in the garden so she could look through the fence at the street activity (though there are other places in my yard for her to achieve that). He thought the scratch marks were just the claw depressions of the 70 pound beast we call Inca.
Can't be, I said. She would not resist the urge to also totally dig up the dirt, like before.
She's learned, he said. Labs are smart.
So that's where the debate laid for some time, until Saturday morning.
I was in the shower and Olivia was alone in the living room watching TV. Claus had gone for a dawn bike ride.
I heard a screeeeeeech from that general direction and then super heavy footsteps of Inca running down the porch, followed by the continued pounding as Inca tore through the yard, barking. The screech overlaid the entire soundtrack of chaos.
Babies and little kids make noises like animals; I've confused the cat's yowl for a baby's cry. So I thought something happened to Olivia, and I came running out of the shower.
The noise stopped. I heard Claus' calm speaking, so I realized he had just gotten home. Must have been the TV, I thought, and started to dry off.
When I came upstairs, I got the real story. He came home to find a CHICKEN in our garden. "When I walked in, it was sitting on the parsley," he recounted. "I startled it, so it flew out of the garden and onto the porch railing, which is when Inca saw it and ran after it."
I laughed so hard.
So that explains the chicken scratch and the mysterious fence gap.
"Why would she come into this garden knowing Inca is right there?" he wondered. "And maybe that also accounts for Inca's seemingly random barking at nothing, sometimes?" (I thought the dog was getting senile.)
I thought chickens were stupid, but maybe they're actually smart. She's smart enough to know how to do it for months without getting chased by Inca. She probably knows the fence keeps the dog out.
I recall a recent story my new friend Dan tells me about trouble with a chicken in his yard. "It poops on my deck, so I've started stalking it with a water gun to deter it."
One day the chicken figured out Dan's movements. Porch door slamming+no human=Dan went inside. When that opportunity came, the chicken waited for him. When he didn't return in short order, she actually squawked until he came to the door, as if calling him out.
When Dan was standing in the doorframe, the chicken defecated and flew off, as if to taunt him. He was quite annoyed. "The next time I serve you food, it'll be chicken nuggets, and don't ask me where it came from!" he steamed.
I'm not sure where Dan is on his poultry problem, but I'm OK with this lady bird. It doesn't seem she's eating the herbs (and there are so few left anyway)- isn't she just scratching the dirt in search of bugs?
It certainly, though, gave me a hearty laugh. And if anyone has an opinion on or anecdote about chicken intelligence, I'd enjoy hearing it.