Sunday, January 11, 2009


As many in the world are focused on honoring our next selected president, I honor two old friends who have left the battle field of life and gone on to The Rainbow Bridge.

They came to me at the turn of the century. Two small bundles of feathers, one brown, one black and white. They arrived in a big cardboard box and were not pleased at being jostled around during their ride to my backyard which would be their home for the next nine years.

I named the Barred Rock, Xena, and the New Hampshire Red, Gabrielle, and there was no doubt that they would carry out their tasks like the warriors they were named for. On being de-boxed, they flexed and fluttered their feathers into order and immediately began a fight against bugdom that would not cease until they died.

I grow most of my food and am fortunate that my yard is enclosed on three sides with a stockade fence which keeps dogs and most other vegetable tramper-downers out. Not so with woodchucks, who just dig under the fence [but that's another story] or other predators of the insect kind. I will not use pesticides so Xena and Gab were hired on as exterminators. A job they were not only fitted for but one they took on with alacrity.

Besides their diligent warrior-work they kept me supplied with fresh eggs and added their contributions daily to my compost pile. Bird droppings are so rich that they would burn plants if used on them directly so they have to be composted first.

Perhaps best of all and most memorable was the great pleasure they gave me. We often conversed as they followed me around the yard. They had noticed that I stirred up insects which they quickly eliminated so they found uses for me other than food and shelter provider.

They lived off the land most of the year, the exception being when the cold and snows of winter came. I shoveled paths in the snow to a "bath" constructed in a dry sandy area of the yard. It was just a tarp covered area where they could periodically find sandy soil to nestle into and work it through their feathers to clean off the dregs of "cabin fever" induced by days confined to their residence.

We had few differences. The greatest was disagreement about bedtime or roost time. They would happily stay out to near dark on lovely warm summer nights but I knew of the lurking fox and other predators. So I would walk them toward their quarters and just as we got to the door, each would shoot off in opposite directions. Just one example of how smart they were. They quickly learned that when I picked up a shovel it meant worms and they would fly to help me dig them.

And, like me, they got older. In September, Gabby refused a proffered worm and went to her nest box. I stroked her head and thanked her, wishing her a smooth transition. Xena endured on into the next year but she was so lost without her friend and with the cold weather coming on, I fixed up quarters for her in my sunroom. She was a great house guest, entertaining the cats and announcing visitors with a stern warning to behave themselves.

For awhile she rallied and joined into the life in the big house, then she too let me know it was time. I fixed up an open end box and filled it with more of the sweet, dry grass clippings full of summer fragrance that was in her old nest box. I do not grieve their passing, I honor their life and their patience with me. And I miss them.

"I think I could turn and live with animals, they're so placid and self contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.
So they show their relations to me, and I accept them;
They bring me tokens of myself - they evince them plainly in their possession."
- Leaves Of Grass by Walt Whitman

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