At sunrise and sunset, every day, they face off.
One always keeps the sun at his back, as fighters have done for centuries. Their voices ring through the hollow, their insults and challenges echoing through the pines.
Yes, we have two roosters.
Boop came about legitimately; his mother, Betty, successfully raised three chicks from a brood we didn’t know existed until it was too late. I’ll spare you the tragic details; suffice to say, chickens ain’t very smart.
Unlike his sisters, Boop survived, and grew from a cute little ball of fluff to a reasonably personable rooster of indeterminate background, the very image of his father, Mr. Roo, who actually passed away from old age. Like a good son, Boop stepped up to lead the flock, albeit with a certain amount of Oedipus marring his otherwise honorable visage. Being a typical rooster, he isn’t worried about the genetic consequences of inbreeding, so we make it a point to collect every egg we find, rather than allowing them to hatch.
Boop is content to strut around the farm, with his mom Betty and another, unrelated black hen (Betty Two) in tow, reminding the world that while the world may be a dungheap, it’s his dungheap.
Then, out of nowhere, came the Gravedigger.
He is an extraordinarily handsome, big boy. There’s obviously a lot of barred rock in his background, but his black and green tailfeathers, a heavy neck and height testify of more than one rooster in the compost pile. He just appeared by the front gate one day.
There’s nothing unusual about critters being dropped on our property without so much as a fare-thee-well or a bag of feed. Dogs, cats, puppies, kittens, baby squirrels, baby possums, an injured buzzard, and a horse or two, as well as things I am certain I have forgotten, have magically appeared on our doorstep for years. I thought for a long time this happened to everybody. At least a rooster could work for a living either by improving the gene pool in our henhouse or by providing a meal.
I contacted the neighbors, but none of them were missing a rooster. In our community, people have chased goats, dogs, donkeys and one legendary, surly bull; none were terribly surprised at my inquiry. Indeed, there was even one offer of a new home for the Mystery Chicken, which we were more than willing to accept — had we been able to catch him.
For that matter, it was days before my beloved Miss Rhonda believed me when I told here there was a strange rooster claiming the territory between the mailbox and the Beaver Gate. (That landmark, by the way, is a column for another day).
She went on at least two expeditions searching for the Mystery Chicken, and after each one returned with an empty net and a suspicious look on her face. I’m sure she sniffed my breath to see if I had started drinking again.
With no evidence of impairment, she just patted my hand and smiled.
“I’m sure he is a very special chicken,” she said. “Ask Elvis, the next time you see him. Maybe he’s Elvis’ rooster.”
Boop has an odd schedule; he crows between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., as well as from right before dawn until about an hour afterward, then at random times throughout the day. Doubts of my sanity were finally assuaged when Miss Rhonda heard the Mystery Chicken crow a challenge to the normally unflappable Boop.
Offended by the temerity of such, Boop leapt from his perch and stalked about the yard, fussing and cursing in chicken, occasionally punctuating his fowl language with a piercing crow — to which the Mystery Chicken immediately responded in kind.
The other birds were and are unimpressed. The Muscovy ducks just keep up their incessant, rather soothing babble about nothing. The geese still hate everyone and everything equally, especially since they have a new gosling that must be protected at all times, at all costs. It’s a good thing the Cobrachickens, as I call them, don’t have access to heavy weapons. Geese are firm believers in the preemptive strike, even against the goats (in their pen, yet).
The Mystery Chicken earned his more formal name — Gravedigger— one afternoon when I came home from work.
As I unlocked the main gate and pulled in, he fluffed his neck, flapped his wings and assumed a pose worthy of the Old West gunfighter in the song I was half-listening to.We stood about 20 feet apart, human and rooster, and he stretched his neck and gave one short, threatening cock-a-doodle.
It was almost, but not quite, reminiscent of the iconic music from Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I’m not sure which description fit either of us, but that’s neither here nor there..
“Your name is Gravedigger,” I said. He bobbed, preened and seems to approve.
He has attacked my truck two or three times, generally in the morning. I have taken to dropping a scoop of feed out the window as a payment for safe travel. Thus far, he has allowed me to pass.
Boop is maintaining the loyalty of his hens, although the situation is fluid. Betty One or Two (I can’t tell which) is venturing farther and farther up the lane every day; I fear she is succumbing to the charms of the bad boy who guards the gate as zealously as any avian Cerebrus.
Then there’s the Mystery Hen, a pretty little brown with silky features who only appears every now and again. I have no idea whether she was dropped off with Gravedigger or if she is a displaced survivor of the last fox Invasion (a problem solved by the geese and their policy of not negotiating with terrorists). She is furtive as the resident quail, who aren’t impressed by any of the drama unfolding in their front yard. Quail, after all, are royalty, and have no time for the shenanigans of peasants.
I am confident that eventually, Gravedigger and Boop will have a knock-down, drag-out, no holds barred battle of epic proportions in the front yard. It’s just a matter of time before he can no longer resist the siren song of the Bettys, or he gets tired of Boop’s trash-talking.
For the moment, however, we’ll just enjoy the morning and evening sing-offs, and be satisfied with knowing the answer to the age-old question, namely why the chicken crossed the road?
It was to get to the Weaver farm, of course — and hopefully improve the gene pool.