A couple days ago I woke before dawn and heard a strange sound.. kind of like a cross between a squeak and a bark. I laid awake and listened for more.. sure enough, the chicks we hatched from purloined eggs had just hit puberty, and the two roosters were trying out their crows like a couple of adolescent boys with their voices changing.
I got up in the cold and dark, put on some boots and trudged out to the coop. I opened the little she dand found two cat carriers, stuffed them with straw, poked a rooster into each (a handsome black japanese bantam and a nice little white one) and carried them through the snow to the house. I took them down to the basement, kicked off my boots, and crawled back in bed beside my sleeping husband.
So when Jeff got up hours later and went to make coffee, he must have thought he had lost his mind when strange sounds drifted up through the laundry chute and the kitchen air ducts… “cock-a-deedle- squawk!” Who would suspect chickens in the basment?
But I am technically not supposed to have chickens, in town, and though my neighbors are nice people (with big barky dogs) and don’t seem to mind, a rooster would test the patience of even the most friendly neighborhood. So for the next few days I brought them in every night to sleep in the basement.
This morning, we drove to Dundee for the saturday auction. Estate stuff, farm implements, a horse trailer full of goats with yellow number stickers on their sides, the auction version of “hello, my name is…” — and a poultry auction house, with battery cages full of hens, rabbits, guinea hens, quail, and lots and lots of roosters.
It was wall to wall carharts and knit caps, mostly men, mostly farmers of standard midwest germanic descent. At a few auctions in the past I have noticed Asian or Arabic men who bought the animals nobody else seemed interested in bidding on — ugly or aging hens, goats, and rabbits, apparently destined for a butcher shop, restaurant or dinner table. While most folks bring or hunt for boxes or cages to take their purchases home, I once saw an Asian man carry a dozen hens by their feet, heading for the trunk of his car, necks quickly twisted on the way.
I know that in countries with butchers and street markets, (instead of grocery store rows of pink rectangles wrapped in plastic), that there is a better mental connection between chickens in a basket, and dinner on the table. My great grandma went out to the coop every sunday to swing dinner by the head, and I’ve done it a few times myself — (though I need a day to recover from the gore and smell of it before I want to eat the resulting meat. )
I have no idea whether the man who bought my roosters wrung their necks for supper (which I highly doubt, as they were quite fancy and VERY small). I prefer to think he took them to his farm and tossed them into the coop with a harem of hens, and that they will live happily ever after “at stud”, scratching up grubs in the flowerbeds, eating farmyard grass and roadside clover, and warning the flock about cats, hawks and other chicken emergencies.
I was doing a lot of people-watching, and was intrigued by two swarthy men who seemed interested only in the biggest, spunkiest roosters. One wore a thick glove and put a hand up to the cage bars to see who would peck. The two of them stood in front of a cage containing a huge white rooster with a comb that was bloodied from a fight with his neighbor. I whispered to Jeff — do you suppose people really still cockfight? He shrugged and reminded me that the Toledo Police keep breaking up dog fighting rings in the inner city. I don’t like to think about it, but it’s a weird world.
Anyway, I took a parting picture of our rooster, Oscar, while he was waiting for the auctioneer to call up number fifteen. They went for two bucks each. I guess I’ll get a check in the mail.
I bid on some old photos from an estate — (a nurse, who graduated in 1908) — and a crumbling bundle of personal correspondence of the same vintage from a Kansas woman. In the one letter I opened so far, she wrote her sister about plowing the field with a team of six horses, after the sun rose high enough to melt the frost. I am a sucker for other people’s forgotten histories, and often adopt estate sale tintype ancestors whose own people are lost or indifferent. It doesn’t seem fair for diaries and family bibles, old sepia photos and letters carefully bundled, to end up on a table in a warehouse, piled with rusty tools and tacky christmas ornaments, for sale to any stranger with two bucks.
Those written and printed things feel sacred, like ancient shards of pots and skulls in the desert, the detritus that remains of a human life and an earlier century. From the baby’s name scrawled in pokeberry ink in a now-rotting family Bible, to the yellowing bundles of bank documents, marriage licenses, insurance papers and dimplomas that crumble like yellowing fall leaves — this is what remains of somebody’s entire story. Cultural fossils. I’ll read those letters one last time, before they flake to dust, and wonder if some spark of the long-dead women who wrote them is fanned by the attention.
What fossils will blogs leave? My facebook page, emails, cell phone calls? I wonder what cyber-archaeology might look like one day.
I am going to try to take a photo a day to document my year. So far I have one in a row.