They’re funny things, chooks – or chickens as we say here in the USA – the sort of thing that you never miss until you don’t have any, and when you’ve got them you curse every time you have to hunt them out of the garden or stumble like Captain Oates into the frosty night because you’ve forgotten to lock them up safe from cats, foxes, chuditches (in Australia) or raccoons, opossums, coyotes, et. al. (here in the US).
Chooks have long been part of the background to my lifescape (and pigeons, too, another of my lifelong infatuations but more of them in another post perhaps). When I was growing up, almost everyone I knew kept chooks in the back yard, even in the big cities. Those in the working class anyway or, as they now would have us say, the members of my socio-economic cohort. Those backyard chooks kept countless families in eggs and provided poultry dinners on special occasions. Poultry shows, too, were once a big thing among us ordinary folks and gave winners bragging rights and sometimes pocket money from selling chicks or settings of eggs from prizewinning birds. Though “the fancy” has always had its wealthy devotees, poultry shows were largely a pursuit of the man in the street, the populi whose vox teevee producers are always seeking; they were the working-class equivalent of Westminster.
Having learned all this, it won’t surprise you that once we’d got settled in Kentucky I had a pressing need to get some chooks and so I set out to acquire same. There was no question of what breed I’d be keeping; ever since the late 50s when I first began to knowingly play Southern music I’d been attracted to the Dominique, an attraction sparked after hearing, and teaching myself, The House of David Blues:
A knock-kneed rooster and a Dominicker hen,
They’ll get together but I can’t say when;
Gee but ain’t it grand, can’t you hear the band,
Playin’ the House of David blues.
When I began searching for stock, however, I was shocked to discover that the Dominique, America’s oldest breed, had for a long time been on the “Critical” list of the American Livestock Conservancy, meaning that they were in danger of extinction. Fortunately, a revival of interest in things heritage has seen their numbers rise to the point where they have been moved to the “Watch” list, but they’re still thin on the ground.
It wasn’t too long though before I tracked down a young feller not too far from me – in the next big holler to the west, actually – who keeps Dominickers along with other heritage breeds. He gave me a few birds and is, as I write, hatching me out some more. He’s also hatching me some Buckeyes, another rare old-timey American chook. Along the way I also managed to acquire a few banties in the shape of a trio of Sebrights, one Pekin/Silky hen and a dark Cornish hen for whom I’m seeking a cockerel.
However, while all this was happening, something weird was going on with my body. It seems to be telling me that it wants to give up on me. I gave myself a fair hammering in my younger days and I often wonder at the fact I’m still alive; very few of my cobbers are still walking around – those I’ve been really close to – and this is a puzzlement to me. Nevertheless, I’ve spent the past couple of months more than a little pissed off. The doctor can’t pin down the problem and the prescribed pills don’t seem to be having much of an effect and so it seems I’ll be stuck with it and that’s it I suppose. Ah well, it was probably worth it. I had a great, if sometimes troubled youth.Over the past couple of weeks it had got so bad I was feeling really down in the dumps, something that rarely happens to me. I was feeling so useless, so bloody fed up with myself and the way I felt that I was seriously considering just giving up and to hell with it.
Then one warm, sunny day I decided I’d go and hoe the vegie patch – to hell with it. I knew I’d feel rotten afterwards but so what. And if I did snatch my time, well it was a nice day to go, and there are worse places to chuck it in than a sun-warmed patch of good soil.
So there I was, battling the weirds, trying not to give in just yet. I could feel the sun on my back; the hoe chup-clink-chupped, sending the feel of the good earth up my arms and I began to relax. I became conscious of the sounds from the pigeon lofts, the plum-toned love sonnets rolling into the sweet, spring air.
Suddenly, the Dominicker cockerel gave voice to his immature version of the trumpet’s clarion call and it pulled my mind up short. For one magic moment, an iota of time that became infinity, all was right with the world and with me, a rooster’s crowing told me so. Reassured, I dared to think that maybe it was all worthwhile.