Late spring became early summer. Then early summer became the peak of summer. Everyone’s attention turned to the garden and particularly the garden’s vegetables.
Gardens and chickens naturally go together. Chickens are excellent at scratching up weeds and digging in soil. They are even better at eating the bugs that want to eat garden plants, but they are often impatient for those plants to become ripe.
Chickens understand garden food extremely well. Everything is either “food” or “not quite food yet, but almost.” What they don’t understand is why people use garden fences.
If you were to pass by while they are helping in the garden, you would think their clucking sounded like, “Why doesn’t someone remove this garden fence? Why doesn’t someone cut open this watermelon?” And even though you might not understand the Chicken language, you would be correct.
Lefty was the most impatient of all. He would pace back and forth without rest, hoping to speed up the ripening process. It did not matter how often I told him that he was just wasting his time. We all had to be patient with him while he learned to be patient with the watermelons.
We had saved the first ripe watermelon for July Fourth, Independence Day. It was as perfect as a watermelon could be, and I cut it into big round slices.
They gobbled down all the seeds they could see before doing anything else. Then they took whole bites and shook the watermelon juice from their faces, combs, and wattles. It went everywhere, but they didn’t mind.
Watermelons were the last garden treat my six original chickens would share together.
Lefty was learning to crow. His first attempts were weak and even embarrassing, but he was persistent. He practiced until he got it right. My neighbors did not appreciate his desire for perfection.
My heart had hoped that somehow he might learn to be quiet. He had been My Best Little Buddy from the moment he started watching everything I did. He had studied all the tools I used in the construction of their new home as if he was going to use them to do everything he saw me doing. Likewise, he had been my best gardening companion while we prepared the garden beds. Whatever I was interested in, he was interested in too.
But he had to be what he was hatched to be, and that was not a calm and quiet bird who happily followed me wherever I went. It seemed wrong for me to be so eager for Gracie to grow up and be a hen when I was so reluctant for Lefty to grow up and be a rooster.
“There is more to a rooster’s life than you realize,” he told me. “Do you know why roosters crow, even young roosters like me?”
“Is it to show everyone that you are the boss?”
He laughed. “That is what I thought at first too as I was learning. But it is more than being loud and bossy. It is to tell all the other kinds of birds what is happening. We send warnings and sometimes even commands from the heart.”
“And what do they do with what you tell them?”
“They pass those messages along to others who take action for the safety of all.”
“But they don’t speak the Chicken language.”
“There is a voice, a language, in all bird tongues. It is under the layer of species and kind. It is The Ancient Language, created when the first birds leapt into the air and flew. They called out in amazement to all creation about the miraculous gift they had been given.
“It is the common language we birds hear all around us. It is a language that encircles the world at the speed of flight and the speed of sound. It unites us all.
“Then above The Ancient Language is Old Chicken, the language of the first chickens. It is only for chickens. No other bird can understand it.
“Above that is Chicken, the language you hear us speak with other chickens and the people who love us. We build language upon language and then language upon language again.
“To your ear, when a bird speaks or calls or sings, it may seem like a single sound, a single language, but it is not. This is why someone must listen with their heart to understand what we are truly saying.”
I had never read anything like this in an encyclopedia. But I believed every word.
“Lefty, you are not a little chick any longer, are you? These are not things a little chick would say. You really are a rooster now.”
He nodded proudly.
“You’ve grown up, and I hardly noticed until now. I had wanted you to stay My Best Little Buddy forever. But that’s not possible, is it?”
He shook his head sadly.
He had been sensing an even bigger change was coming for him, bigger than how much larger his comb and wattles had grown, bigger than the newfound strength in his crowing.
The other birds, the ones who flew from place to place carrying messages, had told him change was coming. It was in their calls of news from the outside world. He had heard what they said about roosters out in the country and around the world. Some of it was good. Some of it was not so good.
There would be hundreds and even thousands of hen voices for a single rooster voice. Roosters did not matter as much to people as hens.
But Lefty mattered to me.
“You were the first one I picked out at The Feed And Seed Store. You were the first to get a name. Do you remember?”
“But your comb is practically straight now that you’ve grown up.”
He saw the sadness in my eyes.
“You don’t have to tell me about what is to come,” he said. “And I will always be Lefty, just as you named me.”
By then, it was late evening, and we watched the crows moving from treetop to treetop. They were sharing secrets I would never know. But Lefty knew those secrets. He was already learning of life out in the country from the messages they brought to him.
“I am sorry I could not be the kind of chicken you wanted me to be,” he said.
“Don’t apologize, Lefty. It was wrong and selfish of me to want you to be something you could never be. I wanted you to stay small and quiet and to always be My Best Little Buddy. I wanted us to always do things together. Just the two of us. Side by side. Forever.”
“We did have some good times together, didn’t we? I did like it when we built things together.”
“But you grew up, and I stayed the same. I should never have tried to hold you back or silence you. Love always has hope, but love is not love when it won’t let another be who they are meant to be. I don’t know what else to say except I hope you will forgive me, Lefty.”
“It is rare for a person to ask forgiveness of any animal, particularly of a chicken. Our lives depend on you.”
“But that doesn’t mean we can treat you any way we want. Even when we are treating you well, if it is not what is best for you, then it is wrong. It is something I worry about, Lefty.”
“Perhaps you have not stayed the same as much as you think.”
“If you don’t mind, I would like to always think of you as My Best Little Buddy.”
“Gracie is right about you,” he said. “You do have kind eyes. I will miss them.”
I did not know what else to say. He knew he was going to be taken away from the only home he had ever known, and yet he would willingly go without a protest.
Some people say heroes fight. Heroes fight and never give in. But that is not always true. Sometimes heroes yield and trust that love alone will prevail.