Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

There’s an interesting contrast along the outside wall of my carport underneath the perpetual shade of the cedar tree. I’m down to two chickens now. With the spring warmth and damp beginning in earnest a few weeks ago, my chickens had begun to catch cold, so I set them free one weekend to let the pens air out and the birds get some fresh air and dust baths, which usually perks them up quite nicely.

The only problem is that during the couple of days I allowed them to wander freely, I was out of town. Usually, this isn’t a big problem. I’ve lost only a couple of birds this way, and they spent most of last summer outside of their pens. Unfortunately this time, when I returned, I only had three birds left alive. After another night, I was down to two and one of those two had been attacked, a big chunk of her feathers missing on the back of her neck.

After this, I caught the two remaining birds, a nice black one-tufted araucana hen and the injured Rhode Island Red, and placed them in the portable pen I use for chicks that have fledged, but are too small to be penned with the adult birds out back. After a couple of days penned with ample food and water, the Red, which I had assumed would be dead within a day or two from her behavior before capture, had perked up. I had begun to believe the hen would make a full recovery until yesterday when I noticed just how bad her wound actually was. Instead of the plucked feathers and skin lacerations I had assumed, it appears that an entire chunk of skin was removed with the feathers. The steps I had taken to help her back to health appear to have been rather pointless at this point. Shredded skin can scar and seal; I don’t think this will. Still, she behaves as if nothing is wrong.

Turning away from the sight of the mutilated red flesh of the bird, now muted and dried, I saw that the first pomegranate blossom of the season had burst into full fertility that day. The brilliant red of the blossom encircled the powdery yellow of the clustered stamen, the whole construction calling to the bees for dispersal of their genetic code and contrasting strongly with the reds of the bird only a couple of feet away. Even the new growth on the pomegranate is red instead of the pale greens of most bushes and trees. It’s a little odd how the same color can represent complete opposites. Looking at the bird, I see the rouge violence of the wound, and the dull, hopeless red of the feathers. Looking at the plant I see the rubicund visage of growth and the cheerful carmine of the blooms. Even the blood-colored buds seem to suggest life instead of pain and death.

Now, I’m sure I could force some symbolic meaning here about the circle of life where death feeds life and life feeds death. It would even be a fairly relevant, although unexpectedly somber, symbol given a mother’s central part in the cycle (and the cliché, although apropos, comparison of flower to the womb), but honestly, this insight should be considered trite. It’s only the human tendency to actively ignore the inevitability of death and our integral part in the same cycle that includes other animals, and even plants and fungi, that makes this point seem deep and thoughtful when expressed by writers and artists alike.

Honestly, it sounds like I've spent the last four days in a profound funk, but that's not entirely true. Thursday and Friday I was definitely about as down as I've been in a while, but after a lot of sleep Friday afternoon and Saturday I awoke decidedly more happy. This piece does read rather depressingly, but I see it more as about the beauty we seem to view in death and sadness and new life and joy. If we didn't, the Best Picture Oscar wouldn't usually go to a movie that made you cry, Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller wouldn't be favorites of countless literate redneck children, and Pablo Picasso's Guernica wouldn't be one of his most powerful pieces. It's a bit like the line from Modest Mouse's "Parting of the Sensory." The line that's repeated in continuously changing form throughout the last quarter of the song is "Someday you will die somehow and some thing's gonna steal your carbon." Sure there's a slight edge of anger in Isaac Brock's voice, but the music pulsing behind him is energetic and so enthusiastic that it belies the gruesome nature at the heart of the lyrics. Instead of getting you down, the song actually pumps you up and makes you feel more full of life.

To lighten the mood as you matriculate off to other sites, here's the happier of the two images I discussed.


Chris said...

Are you saying the flower might have bitten the chunk of flesh out of the bird?

Cause that's what I think happened.

Julie said...

Well, Chris, the chickens at my mom's house have all been eaten by coyotes. But I like your carnivorous flower theory better. It's more interesting

Mickey said...

I actually didn't read this as a downer until you pointed it out, but then I generally have a pretty optimistic view of the sometimes horrifying ways of nature.

And dude- take care of your chickens.

Jacob said...

Chris, I like your logical assumption, but it reeks too much of The Ruins for me to give you too much credit.

Chris said...

Wow, I think I've been accused of plagiarism. FYI, I have not seen nor read (is it a book?) The Ruins.

I just thought the flower looked awfully guilty in that photo.

Jacob said...

It was both a very bad book and movie.