I spotted the small chicken on a brisk winter day; her shining-black plumage, cheerful gait, and piercing eyes drew me in. With a friend, we took steps to try and catch it, a natural response to the somewhat mysterious and alluring presence that a chicken would have on any school campus. It gave us an unexpected challenge, something tangible that could alter the cold, bitter day into something ineffably fresh and new. Stepping slowly toward it, the chicken became frantic: clucking, flapping, and pacing. One misstep to the left and the chicken darted beneath my arm, fleeing the scene. Although our attempt at capturing the chicken was unsuccessful, this would mark the first of many encounters with the transient black bantam that has gained notoriety at Orcas High School this winter.
It wasn’t long after this incident that I found myself the chicken’s public relations representative by some serendipitous circumstances, and soon the sightings and stories came trickling in. I found myself the sole recipient of chicken related gossip.
Paula Towne, English teacher at OHS, took me aside in passing, whispering “I heard you were interested in the chicken,” and with frantic succession, “I have been feeding it every day.”
This piqued my interest. A community was being formed around this sacred bird. Could something come of this? I took my slowly mounting reputation as a way to know the teachers better, and surprisingly, it worked. Principal Kyle Freeman, a proud chicken owner himself, gave me quick notice of any chicken siting. This established a precedent. With any spotting of said chicken or mention thereof, I would investigate, make sure it was okay and continue with my day.
Although I founded a relationship with this chicken somewhat spontaneously, the foundation itself was built on safety. I would give this chicken a fair share of my oversight and in return the interactions concerning the chicken would give me brownie points with the teachers.
Additionally, I would protect the chicken from any potential abductors. The first of which came about when a Facebook user posted in San Juan Buy Sell Trade, saying “the black chicken is still hanging out at the Orcas High School — does it belong to you? If not — maybe it could. Pretty cold out and would probably love to have a chicken coop to hang out in.”
I was frantic. What would happen to the chicken? Who could possibly steal it from our campus? It scared me to think what could become of our bold black bird. Fortunately, commenters generally spoke well of the chicken, maintaining that it would be a “fixture. Viking yard bird.”
Among the comments, general concern for the chicken was expressed, leading me to believe that my mission to “protect from abductors” may have been misconstrued. It seemed as if they shared a similar sympathy. Then the realization hit me: I wasn’t an essential part of this chicken’s life. We may have crossed paths more than a normal student should have with a farm animal, but I was not necessary for its wellbeing. With this shift in mentality came a great shift in the nature of our coexistence. I would be a watchful eye, not an overbearing Godlike figure.
As the new year came around, the intrigue of the chicken had worn thin, but teachers — mainly Nancy Wrightsman and Towne — had been keeping the chicken healthy. As we sped towards the end of the second quarter, the chicken remained. Occasional messages were sent to me detailing the chicken’s footprints. Or, by chance, a rare sighting. Often the chicken would disappear as soon as it was mentioned, and then one day, it did.
It is debated as to whether the chicken wandered off to the big coop in the sky, or is now resting safely in the cage of some worried farmer’s hut, but what we know is of the legacy it brought, the relationships it made, and the impression it had. Of all the lessons our campus could have taken from this experience, the most prominent one is this: Ray Doss is a saint.