I have had thirteen hens in my flock since late last summer.
Every time I say that sentence out loud I am sure to knock on some nearby wood, as any chicken keeper knows that thirteen can turn to twelve overnight. Or eleven. Or even eight. The nature of a free-range flock is that it is healthy but its numbers are fluid. Weasels, owls, raccoons, cars, dogs… the world has a way of reminding us that chickens are easy prey.
Red Dog the Rooster, may he rest in peace.
But back to my first sentence. ‘I have had thirteen hens in my flock since late last summer’. I know this because we culled, cooked, and ate the rooster in July. As roosters do, he had pushed his luck three too many times. His final mistake was the violent pursuit of a good friend who also, just so happens to be a French cook with a sense for adventure. Sophie, Robert, and myself made quick work of Red Dog The Rooster and he gave us a beautiful coq au vin.
Sophie Drouin, our wonderful French cook and friend.
Since then I have been free to spend quality time with the female flock without having to look over my shoulder in fear. Red Dog had become the quintessential rogue cock and would take any opportunity to bite the hands that fed him. By the time his fate had come to call, he had drawn blood on me several times and had even taken to confronting passing cars (quite an absurd sight to behold).
Roosters may be the most recognizable case of testosterone gone wild in the animal world. Others that come to mind are the bull raging at a red flag and the gorilla doing his chest thump dance. My dad takes great offense every time I have had to ‘take care of a rooster’. He sees the rooster as the alpha male protector, which is exactly right. Hens are happier when they have a roo to put them to bed at night or lead them around the property safely. The rooster is the bird on the front line when a dog attacks and it’s the first to spot the hawk up above and sound the warning signals.
“Le Coq” by Sophie Drouin
On the other hand, the toxic masculinity that erupts from a rooster who has lost the sense of who is a friend (most people) and who a foe, creates an atmosphere of resentment and misunderstanding that eventually leads to some form of early death.
Whether through direct battle with a predator or at the hand of a fed-up keeper, a rooster’s life, is most often violent and short. The most dangerous jobs in the world; loggers, coal miners, deep sea fisherman, roofers, steel workers, overland truck drivers… are overwhelmingly male dominated fields. There are so many examples of positive masculinity out there in our physical, dangerous world. Even as I choose to make the difficult decision to cull a rooster, I appreciate his bravery. His balls to the wall, I will protect my girls to the death way of seeing his world. When I see a man hitched up to the highest feet of a telephone pole in the dead of winter, I nod my head to the Roosters of the World. From this woman: Thank you for doing the thankless, dangerous jobs that keep us safe and fed and warm!
But back to the real reason for this collection of thoughts. ‘I have had thirteen hens in my flock since late last summer’. For two days in a row now, I have cracked eggs into my cast iron skillet and seen the tell-tale dot of reddish black in the yolk that is the clear sign of a fertilized egg. The first time I saw it, I didn’t quite let it into my consciousness. But for the second and third eggs to have the spots, now those are signs that warrant a new way of seeing. Can I have been wrong all this time about my thirteen hens? I now recall seeing the whole flock coming off the plateau in an orderly single file the other day. Another clear sign of a rooster in the lead.
“American Rooster” (2017) by Rachel Sager
Today, I am outside following my flock around the property, looking more closely for signs of a rooster undercover. Red Dog was impossible to mistake for a hen. He was big, giant-chested, alpha male from his comb down to his deadly spurs. You could describe him as a Trump-ish rooster. I don’t hear any crowing or see any clear rooster-like characteristics in any of my _hens. But my repeated statement of thirteen hens has now been called into question. The nature of truth is that.. it is true, until it is proven false.
What is Truth?
For a very long time, the earth was flat, until it wasn’t.
Up until this morning I had thirteen hens.
Now, I am in the scientific method stages of observing and questioning what I once knew to be truth, but am now not so sure. I am watching my flock with new eyes, looking for a new truth. Does this mean that all truth is subjective? Or do truths universally acknowledged, as Jane Austen so eloquently described, still exist?
Fat free foods were the way to lose weight and be healthy from the time I understood what dieting meant up until a few years ago. Eggs were bad for your cholesterol and smart people only ate the whites. And, more darkly, you could contract HIV from shaking the wrong hand back in the 1980’s. If you think practically about these once truths, your next logical step must be, what truth do I believe in today that will be proven false by tomorrow?
“Truth” (2018) by Rachel Sager
When my mother was a child, she lost sleep over the truth that all her swallowed chewing gum was sitting in her belly and would take seven years to digest. I myself, felt horrible guilt for decades as I cracked my knuckles, knowing I was contributing to transforming them into incredible hulk fingers.
Today, my knuckles are smooth and lady-like, albeit usually dirty.
The Oxford English dictionary defines truth as that which is in accordance with fact or reality. But whose reality? I get nervous writing about subjective truth because it smacks a bit too closely to moral relativism for my taste. I am comfortable with the terms good and evil. The good, the bad and the ugly do exist. But I also believe that in order to flourish, I need to acknowledge that I have both the light and the shadow inside me. It’s my job to foster the light and temper the dark. But that is a rabbit burrow for another blog.
The truths that we cling to so tightly can be comforting. They can define how we want the world to see us. Some truths are porous and more easily targeted for debunks. Some truths are flashy. Some will kill you before you even get a chance to put a name to them.
“Time” (2017) by Rachel Sager
To wrap up, I return to a word that tempers most truths. Time.
“Truth is the daughter of time.”
Given enough time, any truth will be tested and found wanting or tested and found pure. I use my thirteen hens as an analogy for bigger truths that we cling to every day. Will I cling to the old truth or begin to take steps into the world of a possible Undercover Rooster?
Time will tell…