Because John's always been the conventional type, not inclined to cavort out of doors in his muck boots and undies, the underwear alone was cause for concern. But when I saw the shovel in his hands, I felt a twist in the pit of my stomach. "The hawk?"
He nodded somberly, "I didn't get there in time."
Earlier that day, before I left, I'd seen a red-tailed hawk swoop over the chicken yard and settle on the fence post. I bolted outside, waving my arms. "Go on! Get away!" The hawk lazily took off, as if not the least bit intimidated by my yelling. Meanwhile, our six hens had taken shelter beneath a young Douglas fir, and there they stayed, quaking in terror.
I returned to the house to get ready to leave, but before long, the hawk was back, alighting on the fence again. Same drill: I ran into the yard, shouting, but this time, the bird only gave me an insolent stare with its beady eyes. It didn't even blink. Really mad now, I picked up a chunk of wood and hurled it at the hawk. With my pathetic aim, I didn't expect to actually hit it, and sure enough, I didn't. But my flimsy weapon seemed to have done the trick. The hawk flew off toward the deep forest next to our woods.
I figured the chickens were safe, under the tree. So did John. Still, while I was away, he'd worked outdoors most of the day, so he could keep an eye on things. Near sundown, he'd decided the "girls" would be okay, and went in to take a shower. Half-dressed, he'd looked out the dining room window, and saw the hawk in the yard, standing over a hen. A dead one. John raced out, and threw a big stick at the hawk - and at least had the satisfaction of running off the hawk before it had a chance to eat its kill.
When I arrived, he'd just buried the chicken. For two days afterward, the traumatized hens wouldn't leave their coop. Both of us feeling sad and guilty, John and I vowed to protect our five remaining girls a lot better. No more unsupervised roaming around the yard from dawn til dusk, whether we were home or not. From now on, we would only let our chickens out of their fenced-in coop area - a 10' X 10' "cage" of poultry and utility wire - when we were outside too.
The hawk hasn't been back. We like to think that since John prevented it from enjoying that delicious chicken dinner, it figured, why bother coming back for another try? I suppose in the larger scheme of things, we've been lucky. The hens haven't been molested by your usual chicken predators, like foxes, raccoons or coyotes. Still, I've gotten into the habit of scanning the sky, and checking the compost area for animal sign.
And keeping in mind that when it comes to wildlife, the operative word is "wild."