My Feathered Friend
In the ‘60s we protested for peace--now…we’ll settle for some peace
Our home in Corrales may seem peaceful, yet with the whizzing traffic up front at the road and the barnyard cacophony in back, it is hardly ever quiet. A houseguest emerged from his slumber one morning with a puzzled look on his face, asking, "Is there a zoo around here?" The cows’ mysterious mooing is like a cross between a rusty gate hinge and an elephant mating call.
Our second-story bedroom opens out onto a deck facing west towards the
irrigation ditch and the rising escarpment. You can hear everything at
once from up there—those cows, horses, burros, goats, sheep, yowling tomcats
and howling coyotes, literally. Bullfrogs and crickets throb through summer
nights occasionally pierced by the eerie feline cries of peahens. Church
bells bong on Sunday morning, while hot-air balloons hiss and drift over
the field, accompanied by a chorus of barking dogs.
Mornings we awaken, depending on the season, to honking geese, raucous crows, chortly finches and sparrows squabbling; the strange and wonderful sandhill cranes cruising by; woodpeckers working at the eaves, or comedic roadrunners chattering, challenging a watchful cat. Sometimes I lie semi-awake in bed listening for my favorite bird, so small I’ve never seen her, yet she returns each spring with her distinctive song—a long story with a question mark at the end. She arrives with a big voice by the time the apricot trees burst into blossom, alive with an industry of bees.
Other days are less pleasant--rude awakenings to the sounds of my neighbor’s
recreational bulldozing, incessant beeping front-end loaders and backhoes
scraping, chainsaws, road construction and heavy equipment hitting it hard
at 6 a.m.
Our neighbors on both sides have always kept chickens, and their roosters in particular make a definite statement about "country" life. We have never raised chickens, though we once kept some Easter-bunnies who became warring rabbits in a sad hutch. We’ve had cats, dogs, gerbils, fish, even a horse, but chickens seemed to be a step further into farming than we were ever willing to take.
I thought the little family of next-door free-range hens to be pretty cute when they first came to visit, buck-bucking around my backyard, adding a bucolic atmosphere. But then they ruthlessly scratched up my seed-beds, sending flowers flailing and bulbs upturned, leaving curious oval-shaped depressions in the dirt. (No eggs, however!)
So, when I gestured menacingly with a rake at Patty’s prize rooster who was proudly stalking my garden and intimidating my Labrador retrievers, I meant only that he should run under the fence straight for home. To my complete surprise, he flew at me-- stabbing black-and-blue punctures in my tender thigh, newly exposed in shorts for the tanning season. I decided then I didn’t like roosters very much. In fact, I had the urge to kill.
Manuel’s chickens to the north would stay on their side of the fence, but the rooster in charge over there had the unfortunate habit of sleeping in a tree at night and waking up way too early. My friend Sonja speculates that roosters are genetically coded to crow at sunrise, but they often mistake the morning star on the horizon for the breaking dawn—so when a beam of light hits their tiny brain, they go into full-freak. In the case of this particular cock, he could be triggered by the lights of a passing truck or maybe a UFO, and the full moon was grounds for an all-night songfest.
I begged Manuel to do something about it, but he only shrugged—What could he do? The rooster refused to sleep in the coop with the hens, like a proper chicken. I suggested the frying pan.
Roosters are a part of life in the country, he reminded me. If you don’t
like it, move to the city, with the sirens and the traffic. Yes, I said,
here in the country we have car alarms, sirens, firetrucks, burning garbage,
your brother chopping down trees, and frickin’ chickens too—the worst of
I might have adapted to the nocturnal disturbance—as my husband did, he’d sleep through anything, after years of nightwaking children crawling into our bed—but the anticipation made my dream-state hyper-aware. Without the door open to the air, we would surely suffocate. My subconscious only pretended to sleep, waiting on edge through the silent night, listening for the first horrific roostering to rend the deep darkness.
Then—repeated and repeated at random intervals so, as the sky slowly brightened, my mind sought hopeless solace under the pillow –expecting, and yet each time shocked anew by the awesome death-throttle emitted from the skinny throat of this unrepentant creature. Cock-a-doodle-doo is an inadequate description of this cry, which seemed to condense all the angst of the world into one ear-splitting expletive.
I contemplated the meaning of this persistent alarm in my life. Why
did I have to endure such abuse? Years of lack of REM sleep made me singularly
irritable. I realized one winter morning what this bird was saying, simply:
Wake up! Wake up!
It was New Year’s day. I awoke to a familiar refrain. I went out on the deck, squinty-eyed, to witness a rare sight: the nearly full moon huge on the western horizon, setting into a bank of low-gathered clouds tufted pink with the flush of dawn. A moment later the moon was gone into the chill grey of an ordinary morning.
I observed my nemesis, crowing in the barren branches of his favorite
tree, and I saw him fully for the first time. Dirty-white, scruffy bird,
he turned a red eye to me and we surveyed each other in the sober light.
Then, with a rousing bloody-murder cock-a-doodle, he buried his beaky head
under a wing and shuddered, nestling in for some shut-eye after a long
I thought briefly of my son’s BB gun within reach in the next room, which I could have aimed at the heart of the beast. It would have been an easy pot-shot to blast that bird right out of the cottonwood…but I calmed my impulse, and made a fake gun of my index finger: POW. You’re dead. I considered that this rooster and I had some kind of karmic pact, and so I made peace with my feathered friend. This too shall pass, I sighed. I would have to let it go.
I don’t know what happened after that day: I never heard him crow again. Perhaps he met his fate in the posole pot for a New Year’s dinner. Soon after that the hens were history too, having lost an encounter with Richard’s wolf-dog—leaving only downy white feathers floating on a breeze, caught on the chicken wire fence.
Most mornings now I hear roosters crowing along the ditchbank, sweet
trumpets in a distant dream. I turn over gratefully to go back to sleep,
knowing I might be missing the brilliant dawn, the setting moon casting
cool light across the frosted meadow. Here in Corrales, today at least,
it is the best of all possible worlds.