There was a blessedly brief interlude in the mid-1970s when we all grew beards. The men, that is. And I don’t necessarily mean all men, but a lot of us did assume a certain Jerry Garcia persona about ourselves.
But, this isn’t about beards, it was just that beards seemed to go with the attitude and the attitude was to embrace that which was rural. You know, not really be a hippie, with communes, and nits in the hair and stuff. But assuming some wannabe trappings. Some friends, acquaintances and colleagues bought themselves little spreads; small rural acreages upon which they’d plant huge vegetable gardens and raise chickens and ducks and sheep and goats, etc. And maybe, in moments of decadence, smoke the odd joint of very low-test weed and marvel within themselves at their inner coolness whilst revelling in Lou Reed’s White Light.
Me, I bought 80-feet of waterfront with manicured lawns and gardens. But, I kept my beard for a while, though balked at bib overalls and ‘chawing’. But what I did do as an indulgence to ‘ruralism’ was get myself a little flock of chickens. Kept them for a number of years until I got weary of sharing them with predatory raccoons. Raccoons, by the way, are anomalies in the animal kingdom. They don’t just kill for food, they kill because, just like the grizzly bear hunters the BC government seems to want to attract, they ‘like’ to murder other defenceless animals. Or so I believe.
Now the only reason I am rambling on here about chickens was because of a thought that came to me a while ago when I was watching the PBS offering on NATURE: Animal Odd Couples. As a certifiable softy I was enchanted by the tales of interspecies pair-bondings with the most delightful to me being the tale of the 16-year-old billygoat who would daily lead his pal, a blind 40-year-old horse to a pasture where there was good eatin’. I get teary at shit like that. And then there was the lab and the cheetah, and the golden and the fawn, and the lovely old great dane and the fawn and the lion and the coyote. They were all good. If I wanted to believe in God animals would help me in that quest.
And what came to mind was that I once had an interspecies experience. No, not of my own, in case some of the more warped among you were going that way.
This means going back to the chickens. I had a little white hen that had run afoul (used advisedly) of the rest of the flock. They didn’t like her and were mercilessly pecking on her to the point of drawing blood. I knew enough about the species to know that the flock had a hit on her and were in the process of pecking her to death. Armed with that knowledge, I liberated her. Took her out of the pen and let her go about her business outside of stir. She seemed very happy with that turn of events.
Only trouble was, chickens are social animals so she gravitated towards the next available animal – my lovely dog, Murphy. Now you might thing a dog would tear a wayward chicken to feathers and fleshy shreds, but this wasn’t so. Murphy knew that the chicken belonged to us so he was (as master of the domain) honor-bound to protect it. Border collies are like that.
So, the little white hen hung around with Murphy; followed him around the yard; roosted on the woodpile in the carport if he was lying down on the doorstep; and merrily shared the food in his bowl if it looked tastier than chickenfeed. Murphy never balked. He patiently let the bird do what she had to do and eventually it came to seem like the natural order of things to him.
In time the little hen died of natural causes not by being brutalized by its erstwhile peers, and Murphy too went to the big kennel in the sky.
And eventually I shaved my beard off and no longer have the waterfront home. Life goes on. Stuff changes. Miss the house, the dog and maybe even the chickens, but not the beard.