Friday, May 23, 2014

On Baby Chicks.

So, today marks the last day I got to see my baby chick.

Perhaps I should back up and explain. I am in AP Biology. After the AP exam -- which was a couple of weeks ago -- my teacher bought a bunch of newly hatched chicks as a last, fun project for the year. (She does this every year, though only for the AP Bio students.)

Mine was (is) a little Rhode Island Red chick. She slept on my hand, mostly, and freaked out when I picked her up, and was rather antisocial. We had to do an experiment in which we took away the heat lamp from a group of 5 or 6 chicks to observe their behavior, and they were supposed to huddle together; but my chick turned her back on the others and just fluffed out her feathers.

I named her Imogen. "Imogen" is such a... a chic name, an unusual name, one which conjures up a calm, collected hipster. And if my chick could wear glasses and lounge about at some Paris cafe, listening to Imogen Heap (the music band) on an mp3 player, I think she would.

She had (has) soft downy feathers of a gentle red color, except for the tiniest splotch of black at the back of her head, like some artist had to put a finishing touch on this little piece of work. She never attempted to fly, though her wing feathers always looked long and a spotty brown-and-white and ready to feel the wind between them.

We painted their toenails different colors, to tell which one was our own. Since there are at least a handful of other Rhode Island Red chicks, I painted the middle toenail of Imogen's feet a bright pink. Just the middle toenail, or claw, whatever the proper terminology is, on both feet. Not that this always helped, as -- fun fact! Baby chicks are attracted to color, and will peck off any nail polish you might paint onto their nails.

Imogen also had the tendency, as I said, to freak out when I picked her up. There are still thin scratch marks across the backs of my hands, because she apparently felt much safer perched on the thin ledge of my wrist and the back of my hand, rather than safely cupped in my palms. Still, she was a sweet little darling. When I had her safely to the tabletop, she never left my hand, but cuddled into my palms and trembled just a bit, falling asleep and jerking awake at random.

And of course, I wanted to keep her. But I live in a suburban home, one filled with cats at that, and it wasn't really an option. My teacher assures us they will go to farms where they will be layer hens; they are not going to get slaughtered or mistreated. But I still feel kind of bad, because the entire point of the project was to get the baby chick to imprint with you, and then once you get imprinted they get sent away from their human "mother." I can't help picturing little Imogen at some farm, waiting for me to come by so she can perch in my palms and fall asleep in peace, even when she's big and unable to fit in my hands.

Like the relationship with my cats, I just see -- I don't know. A little spark of something, in their eyes, on their face. I like to think every animal is just as capable of thinking as I am, and judges me on my behavior as much as I on theirs. My baby chick is one of these intelligent animals. I think she does love me, in her little chickie way, and that she would want me around for a long time, just to sit in my lap and rest her little beak on the edge of my thumb while she drifts off. And it wrenches my heart to think she'll grow puzzled at my absence, and then maybe she'll get anxious, and then -- eventually -- forget all about me. As strange as she is, she deserves something good for her, even if it's a clumsy teenage girl just stroking her head and cooing at her in that quiet voice reserved especially for baby animals.

I am not entirely sure why I decided to share this post with you, about my somewhat pathetic empathy for a baby chicken, of all things, but I suppose I wanted to offer up a little lesson. Because, you know, teenagers learn some worthwhile morals that others can benefit from, too.

In the end, I think it's not just baby chicks who imprint on you. People imprint on others, too, and I guess sometimes you imprint right back.

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