Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The phantom pea hen

October moon over Several Gardens Farm
Children swear our neighborhood in Burien is haunted.

Eerie cries echo down the streets. A dark form lopes through the hedges, always on the run. You catch a glimpse, but it's gone when you turn.

A flock of birds wheels in the darkening sky, startled by something you can't quite see.

The peahen is on the prowl. 

Here is the legend, as we have heard from others. All we have are her stories.

Somewhere a few streets from Several Gardens Farm, a family kept peacocks. The birds thrived and multiplied. When the family left, a pair escaped  stayed behind, going feral in the overgrown ravine and the wide, unfinished alleys.

A male and female were seen ranging the block and beyond. Families tried to capture them, and failing that, a tradition began of feeding them.

In those days, we saw them often.

Amid a flock of crows, two shiny blue forms stood out, tall and regal. They ate at bird feeders and roosted on deck rails.

Then we stopped seeing the male. David and Noah walked the block, trying to find out where he went. Some folks say it was a dog.

Others mutter more darkly, that some teenagers killed him.

All we know is, he met a violent end, and his mate probably saw it happen. 
Now she is a bird apart. Her colors grow muted. She looks more like a giant pheasant than  the 
embroideries of Persian art.

The street she lives on has become a tribute to her stubborn will to live. Brightly colored decorations grace many yards, and statues of birds and beasts have sprung up, as if in her honor.

Night deepens.The hens are sleeping up on their roosts. The ducks are locked up, safe from the raccoons and coyotes that roam our neighborhood.

Our fowl are free range but not feral. They return home out of natural habit. They recognize the bounds of our property by some method I don't understand.

Instincts tell them when to wake up; they forage at least half their food, sometimes ignoring the feed we offer. They form bonds and enmities among themselves, and seek privacy to lay their eggs. Their lives are not as secure as a hen in a completely confined setting, and I am sure they produce fewer eggs. But animals have instincts as deep as the need to eat or sleep, and birds raised in close confinement often have those instincts thwarted.

Compared to the peahen, our birds are coddled. She is truly untamed. She sleeps the night in trees. She doesn't tolerate chickens. She's killed hens that got too close to her. Pedestrians and bicyclists prowl the streets for a glimpse of her - but what could you do if you saw her? You want to take her home and make her safe, but safety is not in her DNA. She has seen too much.

If you call her, she replies, in the harsh, wildcat cry of a peacock, but she won't come to you. She is what would happen to Bonny if she had outlived Clyde.

A haunted, widowed, solitary, self sufficient, chicken-killing harridan of a bird, finding shelter through snowy winters, dodging the massive excavation that tore her street to shreds and then filled it with hot asphalt and road machinery. She is a survivor, the last of her line, uncatchable, held in the trap of all she has done and experienced.

But however I think about her, the peahen will never fit my cubbies - the feminist free-bird, the suffering widow, the victimized feral livestock. She is herself, living her own story. In my own way, I hope I've helped her tell it.

In every live being there is drama playing out. Instincts are fulfilled or denied. Challenges are met and overcome, or they are succumbed to. We have put ourselves in the thick of stories not our own.  I choose to listen to the stories, and live with the knowledge that every story is rich, tragic, and triumphant as hers.

Shared on: homestead revival, frugallysustainable,Simple lives Thursdays

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