The Dawn Chorus

They start well before dawn, really. I’ve heard them going at 3:30 and 4am, before the light has even started seeping into the sky.  If I’m half-awake, as I often am at that hour, I hear them crowing. There seem to be roosters everywhere.

Back in Everett, it was Canada geese, wild ducks, and seagulls, or the occasional osprey. Sometimes the Oregon juncoes would join in or, rarely, a Steller’s jay. Here, roosters. Multitudinous roosters.

I haven’t lived on a farm in decades and when I did, it was the sort where the potatoes didn’t wake you up before the sun rose. You didn’t have to worry about squawking cucumbers or restless squash. Vegetables, as a rule, are a silent lot. Chickens are not.

Yesterday one of my brother’s friends showed up at the door, needing a hand with one of the huge, cylindrical bales of hay for bedding. She knocked. My brother was asleep, as we’ve both been down hard with head colds; I’d been perusing Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult, a little light reading and an interruptible project. I fumbled with the key in the lock, trying to open the door; I’m not terribly practiced at letting myself out because there’s nowhere to go out here, so I usually leave with my brother. The farm is gated and I don’t have an electronic door opener, so I can’t really even go out to take a walk by myself. There are moments when I feel like I’m secretly in a Laurel and Hardy short film.

Once I got the door open, his friend asked if he was around. I offered to help, and then my brother woke up, so all three of us wandered around to the back of the building, where we were confronted with a mountainous bale nearly as tall as I am. I’ve heaved the smaller rectangular bales in my childhood. I’m not as young as I was then, and I’m a little iffy on the whole walking in a straight line thing, but I’m capable of putting my weight behind something and pushing. We needed all three of us.

I met some of the denizens of the farmyard out there – a horse, three donkeys, and a bunch of chickens, along with several more cats than I’d previously seen. The donkeys were not terribly patient and were trying to nibble off the bale as we rolled it through the mud. It’s been raining a fair bit, and yesterday we actually had some sun, so it was the best time to move the bale from the barn to the shelter in the barnyard.

The view of the Dolomites from the barnyard is really quite spectacular, whether they are cloud-crowned or not. Snow fell in the mountains recently, and the peaks looked distinctly fluffy from this distance. They’re much closer than either the Cascades or the Olympics were back on Puget Sound. When the view hasn’t been fogged it, it’s been lovely.

But chickens. Most of them live in the barnyard. Two of them, however, live out in the front here, with the humans and the dogs and a couple of the other fowl. Chickens, as a rule, are a flighty lot. Quick to scurry out of the way or to have a bit of a panic about whatever happens around them, they have, in my experience, at least, been a bit excitable. These two are the Zen masters of chickendom. A car pulls in to park? They arise, ruffle their feathers a bit to straighten them out, and take a leisurely stroll out of the way. Dogs go off at the wind in the leaves?  A feathery eyebrow is raised, a wing might be shrugged, and the Zen chickens get on with whatever they were doing. Napping, most likely. They’re always within a few feet of each other, a symbiotic chicken unit of mellow. I hear them in the mornings out front, rooster-doodling along with the rest, declaring the sun before it rises, rain or pre-shine. These chickens will probably calmly announce the apocalypse and then settle in again for a nap.

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4 thoughts on “The Dawn Chorus

  1. I love the picture you’re painting here. We have a lot of zen chickens around here too. Freerange town chickens, used to large dogs, cars, bicycles, toddlers on tricycles, and anything they might run into as they wander off their unfenced property to sit and meditate as they watch shoppers drive up to the grocery store.

    • Most of the chicken’s I’ve ever met were raised in chicken coops and let out during the day to wander about in the chicken yard, fenced in and collected. They were, to a one, pretty easily flustered. Zen chickens are a new one on me. It’s pretty cool.

  2. Oh, this tickled me no end! Zen chickens, yes. Love your descriptions, your overall feeling here. I lived in the country for a time, as well as visiting others who lived in the ‘boonies’ on a number of occasions, and I have heard this pre-dawn chorus of rooster impressions. I’ve only ever heard one rooster sound off in that typical ‘cock-a-doodle-do’ manner, most of them always sounded like they were still rehearsing it. *snirk*
    I like ‘hearing’ what’s going on with you, as well as enjoying how you share it, almost as much as what you share. ;D

    • Why thank you, my dear! These guys tend to be a little more gurgling than the stereotype. A little while ago, the jets from Aviano went over and the roosters went off, with additional excited clucking, and I couldn’t help the James Earl Jones voice in the back of my head murmuring, “There is a disturbance in the Force.”

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