We humans cross paths with nobility so rarely, the surprise is in the fact we recognize there’s something akin to reality behind the concept. Instead of looking for it we make heroes of celebrities, preachers, soldiers, cops, politicians, popular science personalities and any gender capable of making our genitals tingle.
We need heroes too badly to hold out for anything worthy of admiration in our fellow humans. Far better to have a fat, power-drunken political radio rhetorician, an angry, strutting songster shouting a drumbeat of communal self-pity, a tribe of pierced, tattoo–branded cattle, anyone who can catch a football to represent the best we can find as objects of our veneration, than to have nothing at all.
But I’ve digressed.
Probably Christendom runs amok with people who share their lives with creatures they believe are noble, worthy of a higher level of respect than the fantasy masturbation indulged in when they consider their favorite preacher, guru, rock star, or pleasing features. A cat, a horse, a dog– anything capable of out-doing a human being when it comes to loyalty and the ability to do well what nature gave it the means of doing. Most settle for less, knowing it doesn’t require perfection to trump any competition the human species is likely to put forward.
I’ve known a good many cats, and share my life with some now I’d stack up against the great majority of humans I’ve met in 6.8 decades of life. They were good, each in ways we measure felines.
But the Great Speckled Bird is in a class all his own.
He was given to me as a discard, a crippled leg, a wing that hung low from some past injury. I took him, but I wasn’t glad. Not until a few days later when I saw him trying to convince a hen that a particular spot was okay for laying eggs. Not until he snuggled himself into the spot while she looked on, hen-like. Not until he stood guard at the entry while she did her business.
That was my first hint there was something special going on here. I’ve admired roosters for conspicuous courage, smiled at their pride and posturing, cursed their wrong-headedness, acknowledged over time that traits of average roosters bear a lot of similarity to those of human heroes, celebrities, and the common run of mankind, only the roosters are more consistent, better at it.
Learning to respect the Great Speckled Bird required me to suspend disbelief. I had to learn to believe my eyes and forget the expectations acquired by long acquaintance with roosters.
Over time I watched him deprive himself as a matter of ritual, calling the hens to any food he found, picking it up showing it to them, dropping the morsel for them to fight over. Refusing to go into the chicken-house at night until all the hens were safely inside. A few months after his arrival I’d lost seven hens to some predator within a couple of days. I was indoors when I heard the cacophony of flock alarm somewhere out back, took up a long gun and hurried to see what was wrong. The Great Speckled Bird took flank position and we trekked in the direction of loose feathers up the hill. I knew I’d lost another chicken, but I saw no sign of what got her.
Suddenly TGSB spread his wings and made a run for a cedar about 40 yards away. When he was a few yards away a fox darted from beneath, crosswise to both our paths. I fired and the fox chose to visit the place where chickens don’t have roosters and men with guns to guard them, or whatever place fox-folk think they go when they die.
Last winter was a tough one for the Great Speckled Bird. Younger roosters were maturing and a long cold spell weakened him enough so the beta birds discovered they could beat him out in a fight. I caged them so they couldn’t follow through, and he recovered.
But I’ve just pulled a brooding hen off nine eggs she sat for 25 days, none of them fertile. The winter must have done more damage than his frost-bitten comb and the beatings from the other roosters. No more chicks around here until he’s gone, but I doubt he’ll make it through another winter.
One morning I’ll go out there, see him lying beneath the roosting hens and whisper, the king is dead. Long live the king.