A Bit Fowl

Summer’s on and I’m driving. As in, driving a lot.

With nothing much offered in the way of summer activities for Jeb on this side of our island, I’ve committed to the hour and a half, round trip, trekking to art camp for the next four weeks. (That’s an hour and a half in the morning and hour and a half in the afternoon, mind you).

No, we haven’t found anyone to ride share. Yes, this burns a ton of fossil fuel and takes its toll on my vehicle. No, this kind of commute isn’t all that bad in an island paradise. And yes, people all over drive this far to work on a daily basis.

The bottom line is Jeb loves the camp, I get my work done, and the two of us get a little mother/son time as we travel.

This driving has also gotten me out of my limited five-mile radius between home, market and the post office. I’m taking in the sights like a tourist and sometimes what I see is puzzling.

Take for instance, the 8am opening of the tilting restaurant shack, Chicken in a Barrel BBQ. I remember years ago when this was a sandwich and smoothie place. There’s a new sign now, painted with a chicken surfing inside a wave.

In the early morning light, smoke billows from barrels housed inside a chain link fenced enclosure, not far from picnic tables and the roadside. The sun is coming up, as a human dressed in a matted, chicken costume, stands waving at passing traffic. They are pacing in excitement upon giant, orange poultry feet, welcoming passersby and nodding their bobbley chicken beak in greeting.

This all strikes me as peculiar.

So I ask Jeb about it.

“You know that chicken in a bucket place near the road, in town?”

“Mom, you mean chicken in a barrel? It’s barrel, mom. Not bucket.”

“Oh, right. That makes sense. The chicken is surfing inside the barrel of a wave. Of course.” I laugh.

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Well, I noticed the other morning, that there’s this person that is dressed in a chicken costume that stands outside and waves at the traffic, as if they’re trying to get people to come to the restaurant.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen that. So what about it?”

“Well, don’t you think it’s kind of strange?”

“What’s strange about it? It’s a chicken at a restaurant that cooks chicken.”

“Exactly, my point. Don’t you think it’s a little odd to have a chicken in front of a restaurant calling in people to come inside and eat chicken? It’s like it’s saying, ‘Hey everyone, come on in and eat my kin.'”

Jeb still doesn’t see my point. “Right, it’s a chicken telling people about the chicken. What’s weird about that?”

“Okay, well look at it like this. What if a human were standing in front of a restaurant with a bunch of smoking barbecue barrels saying, ‘come on inside and eat some humans.'”

Jeb ponders for a moment as his face morphs into an ‘ah-ha’. “Oh, you’re right! Wow. That’s just wrong.”

“So you see what I’m saying? It just seems strange to me. Why would that make people want to eat chicken?”

We are quiet for a bit and I can see Jeb turning the conversation over inside his head.

My questioning is not an issue of vegetarianism. I’m not thinking about whether or not a person feels alright about eating meat. I’m just wondering about the human mind and how seeing a giant, adult-sized, friendly chicken, is supposed to make a person want to sink their teeth into a smaller version of its smoked flesh.

I break our pause. “You know I’m not trying to be gross by saying humans eating humans. I just was trying to show you a different perspective.”

“No, I get it. I see what you’re saying, that is weird.”

He stops, then looks at me.

“But mom…” and he says this with respect, suggesting a bit more than his nine years of life. “You’re thinking too much.”

photo courtesy of pop culture geek
photo courtesy of pop culture geek

Missing Merlin

“Merlin is missing!!”

That’s my text message yesterday afternoon to the Bohemian, though I know he is most likely far from his phone. I’m standing in our yard, in the rain, next to our chicken’s newly built (and empty) house.

There is no sign of disturbance. The door is still secured with the ties, just as I’d left them. But Merlin is gone.

The next two hours are a slow unraveling. First are the thoughts that’s he’s in the nearby vicinity. I call his name, walk through the wetness to nearby trees, check the garden. I think about how when I find him, I will scoop up that little chick and wrap him in a towel. Get him underneath a heat lamp.

Forty-five minutes later, I’m soaking wet. My eyes have scanned grass clumps and been fooled by countless, dark, Merlin-sized leaves on the ground. Every bird that sings in the drizzle seems to echo at least one chickadee note that squeezes my heart. I strain my ears to sort out what may be his call to me.

There are three cats on the property, not really ‘owned’ by anyone, who lounge here to be fed by our neighbors. They are birders, for sure.

One watches my search, stealthily, from its rooftop perch. The other two linger by the laundry room, following me with strange eyes. I see one lone, small feather by the door. It could be Merlin’s. It could belong to a feral chicken that came to the cat food dish for a snack.

After two hours of searching the acre and a half of our property, I’ve cried three times and begun to accept that Merlin is simply gone.

I can’t help but think that if anyone can find him, the Bohemian can. And when he gets home, we search together, for another hour. The bird songs trick his ears too. I see him go to the same chick-shaped leaves I did, and I watch his hopefulness turn to resign, just like mine.

At a certain point, I pick marigolds and tarragon blossoms and put them at the “Merlin’s House” sign that Jeb made. I make a wish for Merlin.  That wherever he may be, that he is comfortable and in peace.2013-03-25MerlinsHouse

Inside the house we eat warmed up left overs with heavy hearts. We rarely drink, but the Bohemian opens up a bottle of French red and pours us each a glass. Jeb is with his dad this night. It’s just the two of us that toast to Merlin. The little chick that wandered into our life exactly two weeks ago.

His tiny peeps have been such a constant with us these last days, we both keep thinking we hear him as we sit sipping our wine. But as night comes on and the outdoor sounds quiet, we realize the Merlin chirps are just echoes in our heads.

If I was not me, if I was you, perhaps, I would think this all a bit melodramatic. There was a baby chick. Fine. They come a dime a dozen (yes, there can be a dozen hatched and digging in your garden bed with mama hen). As I have said, the locals call them ‘rats with wings’. They are invasive, loud and messy.

If I were you, I may be thinking this all got a little out of hand. A chick in a box in the living room. Given a name. Taken to the beach. The subject of photos, as if it were a family member. I understand if we seem crazy.

He was a chicken for goodness sake.  But there was something truly different about him.  And this surprised me. And even more surprising, was that I came to love that bird, despite myself. He had such a genuine sweetness and all he really wanted was to be with us. As long as we were within his view, he was content.

To be clear, we never wanted to make Merlin a ‘pet.’ We understood that he was a chicken and we wanted him to live his life as such. The time being handled by us in his early chick life, the days inside his small box, were just to nurture him through his most vulnerable time so that he could feather and fly into the big, wide world in all his chickenness.

Hence, the Bohemian and Jeb built him a house, where he would be safe from cats and other wild chickens, but could begin living life outside in the sun. Eating bugs, feeling the breeze. Eventually, as he grew, the door to his coop would be open and he could come and go as he pleased.

He just left earlier than we had planned.

Last night, as our search turned futile, I sifted through my grief and regret to try to find some reason why our family was having this experience. The Bohemian and I sat with our wine glasses and miso soup, reflecting on the impact this little bird had on our lives.

One thing Merlin taught me was a deep lesson about compassion. For years, I’ve observed the wild chickens, especially the roosters, with disdain. It’s not as if I would accelerate my car if I saw one in the road, but I wouldn’t drive with extreme care either. Now, with a little fluffy, tender chick in my grasp, I had a new perspective on their vulnerability. I watched mothers with their babies and  saw chickens in the yard as families, not just pests.

Merlin gave me new eyes and a more open heart. I’m not saying this diminishes the fact that Kauai has an out-of-control chicken population. I’m just saying I see these animals a little differently, because I connected with one.

If you say to someone that a bomb was dropped in a distant country, they may feel sad, or even, possibly indifferent, if they have no connection to that country. But should you tell someone connected to that place, someone who’s walked those streets, met its people, eaten the food, seen its buildings – they would be much more affected to hear the news of its destruction.  And much more likely to try to end the war there.

Where there is connection, there are fewer enemies.

I don’t want to spend much time writing about the guilt I feel in my part of Merlin’s disappearance. Merlin was young and vulnerable and completely trusting his life to us. The Bohemian and I discussed at length our decision to try him in his new coop and we carefully tested the door, feeling confident he could not get out. We may have been wrong in our assessments, but we did our very best.

After plenty of sadness last night, the Bohemian looks to the positive,  saying, “Well, Merlin got an extra two weeks of life he wouldn’t have had, otherwise. And he had a really great time with us. You know, he got a bonus!”

I guess it’s true.  And it does help a bit to look at it this way.

Little did I know yesterday when I posted to the Weekly Photo Challenge “Future Tense”, that my image of Merlin’s House and my words about how it was time to “fly the coop” would be so ironically prophetic.

I did not know what the future truly held for my life with Merlin. That as I walked him to his coop yesterday morning, it would be the last time I felt the soft fluff of his little feathers.

These small treasures are ever-fleeting.  Reminders to receive with full and open hearts and expanded minds.

Enjoy them while they are present. Release with gratitude when they are gone.

I’m going to miss that little bird.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense

2013-03-25MerlinsHouseFor those of you following the story, here in the Archives, our family has adopted a chicken. I’ve been embarrassed to publicly admit this truth, on an island where feral chickens run rampant, invading gardens and frustrating farmers. With everyone constantly shooing these fowl off their property, it seems outrageous to actually coddle and feed one.

But when a little chick wandered up to the Bohemian one day, no mother and barely alive, he couldn’t help but bring it home to save its life. Nine-year old Jeb was thrilled. We gave the chick a box, a heating light and named him Merlin.

I’ve been chronicling our first weeks together on various posts here. Merlin’s feathers are coming on, and as his surrogate mother, I’ve got my eye on the day he’ll be ready to leave the nest (meaning, our living room).

Over the weekend, the Bohemian and Jeb crafted a chicken-version of a palace for Merlin. A temporary safety zone, outside, until he’s old enough to roam freely on his own.

I look at the sign Jeb made for Merlin’s new domicile and realize his handwriting won’t always be such a youthful scrawl. One day, he too, will be residing at an address of his own.

But that’s the future (and my submission for the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Future Tense). For now, it’s just a chicken that’s readying to fly the coop.