Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2000]
An article in National Geographic several years ago provided a penetrating picture of God's
After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park [in 1989], forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the inferno's damage. One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of a tree. Somewhat sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick.
When he struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother's wings. The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety, but had refused to abandon her babies.
When the blaze had arrived and the heat had scorched her small body, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, so those under the cover of her wings would live.
Origins: Right off the bat, we can state definitively that no such article was printed in National Geographic, and that it's unlikely any such incident occurred at Yellowstone National Park (or anywhere else). As National Geographic said in response to a query about this story:
The Little Red Hen was one of the thirteen original pamphlets published as part of the Illustrated Gospel Series, also known as "The McCague Lessons." The tale of a self-sacrificing mother fowl was not a true account but rather a yarn meant to teach a Bible lesson about the love Jesus felt for his children, a love so great that he gave his life so that they could be saved.
The tale continues to circulate because, in addition to the author's intended parallel to Jesus' giving his life to wash away mankind's sins, additional interpretations widen its appeal:
- It reassures us that our existence is no mere accident. If the traits we value as human
beings — love,compassion, a sense of obligation and higher duty to protect the weak and helpless even at the cost of our own lives — arenot exclusive to us but are exhibited by "lower" animals as well, then surely this must be evidence that a purposeful creator endowed all his children with these qualities.
- It reaffirms our current beliefs in the sanctity of motherhood and the symbol of the mother as the all-powerful protector of her children. By showing that this higher truth applies even in the animal kingdom, we confirm that we're right to place motherhood on the impossibly high pedestal our society has chosen for it.
- If comforts us to think that nature is not so harsh and cruel as we might believe; that for every wild predator in a dog-eat-dog, "survival of the fittest" world, there's also a caring mother who would willingly and knowingly make the choice to lay down her life to protect her offspring.
Last updated: 25 March 2007
Little Red Hen. Wakefield, KS: Living Stories, Inc., 1945. ISBN 2-01211-113-3.