Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Mulitple Deaths Of Harley

Joshua brought Harley and Davidson home after school with the sad tale that their owners had had enough of their crowing to greet the dawn. It was the same sad old story; their owners had bought them as cute little chickens with visions of free eggs, and hadn’t bargained on them turning into vociferous roosters. They were doomed to become dinner if we didn’t provide them refugee status. So of course the two roosters were welcomed with open arms and immediately ensconced in the chook yard. Harley was a beautiful Rhode Island Red rooster with iridescent green/black feathers in his tail and wings, while Davidson was a pure white Leghorn rooster. Together they provided the girls in the chook yard with plenty of romance. Strangely enough these two roosters remained firm friends even after they moved in with the girls.

We soon adjusted to the sounds of Harley and Davidson welcoming each new day and resignedly pulled our pillows over our ears at the first crow. The boys, as they became known, settled in happily to days of chatting up the girls, eating everything in sight and as stated above, heralding each new day at the top of their lungs, just in case we hadn’t noticed the dawn. Poor old Davidson died a few years later and Harley was left with just the hens for company. I can’t say that he was particularly sad about this change in his social life, even though he and Davidson had been best friends.

During our move from Camden to the Riverina all my pets were loaded into cars or on trailers according to species. Harley and the girls were accommodated in cages purpose built for transportation of poultry. Harley was given his own cage to ensure that he didn’t get any inconvenient romantic notions in transit. The poultry contingent was placed at the front of the trailer with a large piece of poly-tarp covering the front wire for protection from the wind. Behind them were our six angora goats, Penny, the goats’ Maremma guard dog and a couple of Suffolk sheep. In other words the trailer was as full as it could hold.

Before we began our four and a half hour I did a short reconnaissance of all livestock, both those loaded into trailers and ensconced in the backs of cars. All was well with the exception of Harley. There he lay on the bottom of his cage, looking flat and lifeless. I couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t even started the cars and we already had one casualty. I walked closer, wondering what we could do with the body seeing the trailer was chock-a-block full. Harley’s cage was inaccessible however you looked at it. Even if I could get him out, I didn’t think the new owners would be thrilled to find a discarded rooster’s body to greet their arrival at their new home. As I stood there pondering the best method of disposal, looking mournfully down at the sad little corpse, the corpse blinked.

Well, I don’t presume to imply that I know a great deal about roosters but one thing I do know is that they can’ t blink if they are dead. I moved closer to make sure that I had actually seen the blink and there it was again. Harley was definitely still with us. True, he looked like it wouldn’t be for much longer, but with us he was. I gave Harley some words of encouragement and reassurance, lying through my teeth that it would all soon be over and told him to buck up and concentrate on getting to his new home. I also gave him a drink of water, the primary school teacher’s general panacea for all ills. After a few minutes of listening to my pep talk, Harley must have decided that the only way to get rid of me was to stand up, look healthy and have a drink. With a satisfied nod that I’d completed a job well done, I turned my attention to the rest of the trailer’s inhabitants, ensured that all were comfortably settled and went back to loading our last few possessions in the car.

Then it was time to hit the road. We set off in convoy, Riverina bound, travelling in two cars towing trailers and a truck, driven by Graeme, holding all our larger worldly goods. We broke our trip at Yass to have a late afternoon tea and check on everyone’s comfort level both human and non-human.

Just as I headed off to make the tea Graeme called out, “I think this rooster’s dead.” Graeme has always had trouble remembering the pets’ names so his standard method of reporting on any of the livestock is to simply identify it by species and colour.

“He did that before we left,” I called back unconcerned and still walking in the direction of the thermos.

“He died before we left?” Graeme asked.

“No. He pretended to be dead before we left,” I answered.

“I think you’d better come and look then,” was Graeme’s reply.

I walked over to inspect Harley once more and there he was, lying in almost the same position as I’d found him before we set off, only this time he didn’t blink or even respond to a gentle poke with my finger. If anything he looked sadder and flatter than before.

“I think you’re right,” I said sadly, “There’s not much we can do about it now. We’ll have to wait until we’re at the farm to bury him.”

I continued over to the tea making supplies where the rest of the family had gathered, sadly making rooster funeral plans in my head as I walked. Once the tea was poured I took Graeme’s cup over to him where he was inspecting the rest of the livestock. “That rooster decided not to die after all,” he told me, and sure enough, there was Harley standing up, looking around with a “Where am I?” expression on his face.

There was no way I could keep an eye on Harley while we were driving along because the poly-tarp blocked my view. Also I was pretty busy keeping the livestock inside the car from breaking out of their various cages or Shadow, the Silky Terrier type climbing over to sit on my lap from the back seat. On arriving at the farm, yep you’ve guessed it -… Harley was once again on the bottom of the cage. This time he was lying on his back, all his feathers ruffled and pointing in all directions and his feet pointing skywards. No amount of gentle encouragement, poking his ribs or yelling at him got him to move. This time he was well and truly dead. We were totally exhausted after the long drive and moving all our chattels into the house so we decided to leave his mortal remains in the cage on the ground near the trailer until the morning, when I’d give him a decent burial.

Our plans had to change significantly at sunrise the next morning. There we all were, sleeping peacefully with full intentions to be sleeping peacefully for some time to come, when we were woken by what seemed to be a cacophony of fire alarms. Harley was crowing his welcome to the sun! I can’t say I was actually thrilled to hear Harley give voice at that time of the morning but later, when I woke up properly I was happy that he’d survived three deaths in one day.

I’ve given a lot of thought to Harley’s abortive attempts to meet his maker and I‘m convinced that Harley’s death impersonations were the result of fainting fits caused in much the same way as travel sickness or just through sheer hysteria brought about by travelling in the trailer. Happily, Harley never again impersonated a dead rooster.

About four years after our event-filled move to Riverina, when Harley was a very old rooster, he really did die. We left him where we found him for 24 hours – just to be sure that this time it was the real thing.