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
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 →
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.
Ben was attempting to herd his cows from one field to another as I walked in his direction on Church Road. The process first involved opening the gate at the receiving field, then opening the gate at the sending field. In theory, Ben would then shoo the cows out of the sending field down the road and into the receiving field. At the open sending field gate, Ben’s wife and children lined themselves up across the street, arms outstretched, forming a barrier the cows were supposed to respect. The kine, however, had ideas of their own, and strolled indolently between Ben’s kin. Continue reading →
—You are my best friend and my big buddy.—
(John-3 to Dad)
The day-old chicks arrived at the store in a box delivered by U.S. mail. While I had ordered only half-a-dozen specialty breed pullets, they came boxed with two dozen unsexed White Leghorns for cushioning and warmth. I had hung a heat lamp—a warm if impersonal surrogate for their mothers’ downy breasts—in a makeshift pen because the chicks were too tiny and frail to generate enough of their own body heat against the chilly Spring nights. The hanging lamp radiated light and heat downward to make a spot of warmth in the straw where the chicks gathered close to rest. I don’t think they ever fully slept, for the light. But they were warm and safe and comfortable. Continue reading →
While I was away attending the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in July 2013 with my teenage sons, my wife and younger children brought home two little precocious pygmy goats. They named the black-and-white kid Olive, and the light-brown kid Cupcake. Oh, they were adorable, running and jumping and calling to their human friends non-stop. They loved the attention of being petted and bottle-fed, and followed Hyrum and Hannah around everywhere. “My babies,” Angie called them. This poem is about her love for the new kids.
CUPCAKE AND OLIVE
Olive is a pygmy goat,
white with black splotches,
or black with white,
two months old, almost.
You brought her, two days old,
home, with little cousin Cupcake,
and bottle fed her
four times a day.
She doesn’t bleat like Cupcake
(oh, my goodness),
even when hungry,
but cocks her head to one side,
just so, as if to say,
And where, Mama, have you been?
Olive will only suck
from a bottle held by you,
having jumped and flopped
onto your mother’s lap.
You stroke her neck
with a free hand.
The deaths of dear pets have hurt my children’s tender feelings many times over as many years. The sad fact is: pets die. Sometimes from neglect; sometimes from sickness; sometimes from old age. From tiny hamsters to guinea pigs, and from chickens to full-sized goats, each death raised in the children’s innocent minds anew the questions of why things die, and why did their heart have to hurt so much when saying good-bye to friends. I grieved for them and with them as they grieved their losses. The day one of our pet goats died, Erin and Laura cried and cried. I didn’t know how to comfort them. But I stayed with them and talked with them and did my best to sooth them. I wrote this poem about the occasion. It isn’t a great poem, but it expresses poetically the bitter-sweet experience of losing our pet goat. You can read more about our pet goats in Chapter 13: Of Goats and a Pot-Bellied Pig post in the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.
OUR PET GOAT DIED TODAY
Our pet goat died today.
We noticed he was sick:
gasping for breath;
struggling to raise his head off the ground.
Big hands placed him in the November sun;
little hands rubbed him warm,
coaxed him to suck from the bottle, but he wouldn’t, or he couldn’t.
Then he was dead.
He was our friend, and he was gone.
I held him and gathered my little children close around,
where they wept as death and loss seeped into their reality:
“I don’t want him to die,” they sobbed.
“I’m sad too,” I said.
Daughters chose the burial place,
near Diamond, last Spring’s kitten.
Father and son dug deep in the hard clay.
Old chicken straw made a bed and a pillow and a blanket,
to keep our goat warm and comfortable
in his resting place.
Fall’s last roses placed around his head
would bring him pleasant smells in Winter.
A child’s graveside prayer,
trusting an unseen wonder,
would protect the goat and comfort their sad hearts.
“Daddy, where do goats go when they die?” they asked,
knowing that I would know the answer.
I looked in my heart for sweetness and truth:
“I’m sure God loves goats just like he loves people, so goats must go to heaven.”
Through tears they asked hopefully, “Will we see him again?”
“I hope so,” I said. Then, “Yes, I’m sure we will.”
Worried at the thought of the goat covered with earth, they asked,
“What will happen to his body when he’s buried?”
“This is the goat’s resting place, and you have made it very special
with your flowers and prayers.
He will just rest here awhile.”
One last scratch on his nose to say good-bye.
My son works to fill the hole.
My daughters gently place the reddest rose petals on the mound.
Then they run off to play,
and I hear the scared bleating of a lonely goat.
–Our garden is going to grow because of this beautiful rain!–
Caleb (2) loved to feed the goats. We kept a bucket under the sink into which we scraped all the table scraps and vegetable peelings. Each time Caleb saw the bucket, he cheered, “Goatie, goatie!” I carried the bucket in one arm and the boy in the other to the goat yard, dumping the bucket’s contents into the lopsided plywood manger I had made. At 14, one of Caleb’s daily chores was to empty the scrap bucket into the pig pen, and it was no longer an occasion he looked forward to. Continue reading →