Losing a Rooster and an Oak Tree
September 14, 2011
I would not have thought it possible to form such an attachment to a chicken. However, he was a great chicken, as chickens go, and as far as I’m concerned he died a hero’s death. “King Tut”, our beloved, handsome and gentle rooster, was the victim of an attack by coyotes August 19th. We were all absent, and since we were unable to get the birds inside before we left (chickens don’t herd easily), we took a calculated risk that they would be safe for an hour or so until we could return to close the coop. Later investigation revealed that the predators struck only minutes after we left, leaving one hen dead and partly consumed, another missing, and our big, Buff Orpington rooster mortally injured. One of the raiders apparently became entangled in the portable electric fence, as it was partly knocked over and several of the support poles were torn from the ground. Unfortunately it was not electrified at the time or it might have prevented such carnage. There were feather piles everywhere, showing scenes of at least four separate attacks. The rooster, subdued but alert, and all but two hens were sitting on their perches in the coop when we returned.
The next morning at dawn we heard a hen clucking outdoors who had apparently spent the night on a tree limb. When we returned her to the coop, the seriousness of the rooster’s wounds was revealed. He had very few feathers left on his tail, and only one of his magnificent golden plumes remained. He had received a bad bite on his hind end that tore his back and left a deep puncture on the underside of his tail, probably perforating his gut. The wounds had become badly infected overnight, and by late morning it was obvious he wouldn’t make it. I made the difficult decision to put him out of his misery.
Afterwards, believe it or not, I cried. I buried him in the middle of the yard under an apple tree. The children wrote messages to him and put them on his grave, along with some marigolds from our garden.
He was a favorite because in spite of his huge spurs, curved like scimitars (at the time of the final attack he had only one left, the other having been lost in a previous engagement with threats unknown), he never attacked any of us and was never aggressive toward anyone. He must have fought hard to protect the hens and himself though, as his remaining spur was torn from his leg by the time he made it back to the coop. I found it in the grass days later.
He had my respect because he was the survivor of at least three previous coyote attacks in which numerous other birds were killed, not to mention several hawk and fox attacks, some of which I witnessed. He was tame enough to eat out of our hands, and we all loved him.
Hurricane Irene, though barely grazing us, knocked down my favorite Oak tree on our place. It had a 22 inch diameter at it’s base and was perhaps 35 feet tall. Not a huge tree, but it was one I had admired since we moved here, and I had expected my grandchildren to grow old with it. It provided shade for the hill our big vegetable garden is on, and was beautiful to look at as it defined that corner of our property. As a sapling, the trunk of it divided into two main leaders, which grew upward at an acute angle to one another. This was it’s eventual undoing, as the trunk split along that divide in the 65 mph wind of Irene. First one half fell, then half an hour later the second followed.
My twelve year old daughter and I spent a few days cutting it up for firewood. I ran the chainsaw and she separated the tops into one pile and lugged most of the firewood to another pile for stacking and seasoning. I had to split a few of the largest pieces by hand to make them manageable for her. The pungent scent of fresh-cut oak reminded me, as it always does, of an old and great friend, now passed, who burned it almost exclusively in his fireplace. I spent many hours of my youth cutting, splitting and stacking firewood, and I love that my daughter and I shared the experience, though chainsaw work is somewhat harder on my aging and unfit bod than it once was. When we cut the final section off the trunk we counted the growth rings and determined that the oak was almost exactly my age.
I lament the loss of the tree and the rooster not only as the loss of two good friends, but also because it heralds the end of another summer and reflects my own mortality and the relentless passage of time. Of all the disagreeable aspects of life that I have no control over, the passage of time, which seems increasingly rapid as I age, is the thing I resent most. Fighting against it is one of the greatest inspirations in my work. Neither the rooster nor the oak tree deserved to be taken down. They were victims of fate or circumstances. Like many of us, the tree’s downfall was determined years ago by the habit of it’s growth at a young age. Not so the rooster. In many ways I am responsible for his death, which makes it all the harder as I feel that if I had made different choices that afternoon he would still be here crowing his music.