I have raised roosters both tame and mean. One white rooster is so gentle we can hold him and stroke his long white feathers while he softly chortles. Give a rooster a harem of hens, however, and he becomes jealously protective. My roosters never crow only at sunrise. They crow at all hours of the day and night. That same white rooster crows every time he wants our attention, like a dog barking for someone to play with or a cat meowing for a fur stroke. Here is a little poem I wrote about roosters that do crow at dawn. (For more on roosters in Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road, see these posts: Chapter 15: Of Foxes and Hens; Chapter 46: Of Boys, Pigeons, and an Evil Rooster; and, Round Shells Resting.)
Stretches from talon to beak
As he calls to the dawn,
Squeezes from tail feather to crown
As he greets the new day,
–Wow, Caleb, you have lots of brains.–
–No, I don’t! I only have one brain!–
–I mean, you have lots of sense.–
— I don’t have any cents, only three pennies.–
(Caleb-3 with Laura)
“I hate it when things die!” Erin (7) sobbed bitterly.
I have tried to teach the children not to hate because hating makes you feel hateful. But I understood her sentiment: her pet goat had died. She didn’t want to feel the deep grief of the loss of things loved.
“We never even gave him a name,” she lamented. “We just named him Goatie.” Continue reading
Sometimes, in the evening, I like to sit in the chicken coop, in a corner on a stool, and just watch my hens. They scratch around and peck at this and that, keeping a wary eye on me. They don’t exactly come when I call, but neither do they seem anxious, rather, just aware of my presence. As with my children, I have especially enjoyed the young chicks for their beauty and willingness to be coddled and petted and spoken softly to. Yes, I confess to talking adoringly to my chicks.
I am one of them—
close enough for calm.
They, gold-feathered, look up at me
blankly, peeping softly,
let me stroke the feathers
on the tops of their heads,
across their backs,
accepting me best
under their yellow beaks
and down their bristly necks
to billowy young breasts.
The others, blacks and barred,
peck and scratch
comfortably at my feet,
sense me from a disinterested distance,
but run cackling to the corners
at my reaching hand,
as if I were
suddenly some monstrous enormity,
which, of course, I am,
but guileless and doting
despite my alien countenance.
I shelter them from skunk and fox.
I feed them and water them
each day. We visit,
me on my cinderblock stool.
They will grow and repay me with eggs,
and with soft peepings,
condescending to my gentle hand.
The arrival of new animal life brings incomparable happiness to children, both exhilaration and tenderness, as this poem portrays, written from the perspective of my then 8-year-old daughter Laura. The ducklings pictured above are being raised as I post by Hannah, my youngest (with a little prodding from Dad).
Dad brought home the chicks:
six day-old ducklings
in a little cardboard box:
2 green-brown, and
And 2 turklings!
Dad says we’ll eat the turkeys
when they’re grown,
so I’m not allowed to name them.
But the ducklings are my very own.
Already I have named them:
Pumpernickle and Blackbeak,
Wingers and Fuzzles,
Nester and Dandylion.
They paddle prodigiously in the bathtub,
with water not too cold and not too warm.
They shiver and protest at
being wrapped up tightly in a towel.
They huddle under the heat lamp
and peep when I approach.
They bustle about my feet as
I sit in their pen on a cinderblock stool.
They don’t complain when I pluck them up,
but nestle comfortably up under my chin,
as if I were their mamma.
My ducklings are my friends.
They tell me they like me
with their peeping peep peeps.
They tell me they accept me
as they cuddle and becalm.
They tell me they’ll miss me
by the way they look at me
as I walk away for the night.
“Don’t worry, little ducks,” I tell them.
“I’ll be back
–Away I must fly.–
From over a hundred yards away, I hear the enormous sound of what surely is a hundred geese cackling in loud cacophony. I cannot see them in the pre-dawn darkness. But in the growing light of my return walk, I make out the small gaggle of only a dozen very loud domesticated white geese as it mills under the venerable Cottonwood in Craig’s pasture, making its only-as-a-goose-can-do honking. Continue reading
–I heard the sun and waked up!–
The Stansbury mountain range is a succession of high peaks, some above 10,000 feet, each a lighter hue of gray proportionate to its distance. In the moments before sunrise, the clouds and sky form a sea of swirling scarlet, orange, red, and pink. The western face of the Oquirrh range once boasted thick pine forests. But over-harvesting, together with decades of settling particulate pollution from the now-defunct Anaconda smelter, denuded the mountain slopes of their forests. They now show mostly fault-fractured bedrock. With the smelter gone, the trees are slowly returning, starting from deep within the canyons and creeping back onto the slopes. Continue reading
Snow fell lightly in the early-morning darkness as I walked on Rabbit Lane. Just past Ron’s house, I found a newborn calf lying in the shallow swale beneath the barbed wire fence. Flakes of snow flecked its black fur. This newborn had somehow lost its mother and was dying in the cold of the ditch. I groaned as I hefted the heavy calf and staggered to Ron’s back door. Ron soon came, taking the calf into his warm house with a “thank you.” The experiencing of finding and rescuing the newborn calf moved me deeply, and I wrote this poem.
lay beneath the rusted barbed wire fence
by the side of Rabbit Lane:
a lonely, black puddle in Winter’s whiteness,
salted with slowly settling snowflakes.
Death’s sadness reached into me,
a dull ache in my empty stomach.
It drew me to the calf.
I came near and reached out
to touch the black fur.
The small, black head lifted weakly,
turning big, moist eyes
to meet mine,
speaking to me
a simple, sad story:
of wandering from its mamma,
of slipping between the loose, rusty strands,
of learning it was lost,
of growing cold and weary,
of knowing fear,
of slumping down to die.
I strained to heave the newborn from the snow,
and trudged with my burden to
the dilapidated farmhouse.
I knocked shyly, a stranger,
whispered at the back door,
transferred my quivering bundle
to the thankful farmer,
to the warmth of a coal fire and a tender expression,
to warm bottled milk,
to a promise:
to find a mother,
to restore the proper order of things.