November 1, 2009

The Second Tree from the Corner

The title story is a great story, of course, and White’s writing is famously so crisp and engaging that it hardly matters whether he is talking about forgotten poets or nasal surgery in time of war. The unmissable chapter here, though, is White’s unforgettable preface to Roy E. Jones’ A Basic Chicken Guide for the Small Flock Owner. What a stroke to ask White to write the introduction! And what an introduction he wrote.

Although I refuse to believe that she is a silly creature, I will admit that the hen is a rather unpredictable one and sometimes manages to surprise even an old friend and admirer like myself. Last December, after about sixteen weeks of collecting eggs in my laying house without causing any undue alarm among the birds, I went in one morning wearing a wrist watch my wife had given me for Christmas. I opened the first deck of nests and thrust my hand under a hen to pull the eggs out. The hen took one look at the watch and shrieked, “A time bomb!” Instantly the whole house was in an uproar, with hens trampling each other in a mad rush for the corners. This sort of panicky behavior causes some people to regard the hen as a silly creature.