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September 19, 2012

Back to School Fall Reminiscence

My daughter is a freshman in college this year studying animal sciences, and I’m reminded of the start of my freshman year many years ago.

What I wanted were chickens. I had always wanted them. But chickens need special housing, more specifically a coop and a pen, and that’s why, in part, I’d never had them. But when I was a freshman in college, I did raise a lovely leghorn chick – one I’d kidnapped from a lab – where it was about to undergo experiments on its eyes.
I saw the tiny pink comb emerging from the cocoa brown stripes on its little head and I couldn’t bear to think of him going under the knife. I asked the professor if I might have him, and he assented. Being newly hatched, he imprinted on me as his mother and followed me wherever I went, a chicken on campus. Thinking back on it, I believe that I, with my ripped jeans, tailbone-length hair, and imprinted chicken, continued to be admitted to that institution for comic relief.
I raised him until he was a lanky, freely pooping adolescent rooster. My suite mates weren’t exactly sure how to behave. He lived in our common room and was pleasant enough as long as I kept his papers fresh. Then he began to croon and moan, and I knew midnight crowing could not be far behind. Before he found his voice, I would have to find him a real home, and I was determined that it not be a laboratory. I asked around the administration offices until I found a woman with a weekend farm in the hill country. She told me that her flock rooster was getting old and this new one would do nicely. What a relief. I packed him into a cardboard box and left him with her on a Friday afternoon. I’m sure having a harem sure beats donating your lenses to science.

That year chicken fever reached a pitch by the time the county fair rolled around at the end of September. I couldn’t bear to look at the white meat chickens, with their huge breast muscles and stocky legs. Like the turkeys, they looked maladapted, over-weight, and miserable. No, I stared at the show bantams in their tiny cages like a car fanatic at an auto show, taking in every detail, every finely penciled feather and glossy hackle. The silver Sebright laid me low. M.C. Escher couldn’t have invented a more beautiful chicken. Only nature can do that.

Most people, I suspect, want chickens for one of two things: meat or eggs. The thought of offing these chickens for meat would be, for me, similar to murder.

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