- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)



Rockvale, Tennessee, March 8, 2009

When our friend Marie first brought the
chicks to us, he was an immediate standout,
though he was small and seemingly almost
still wet from the shell.  I named him
Fabio, after the male model of countless
bodice-ripper novella covers.

He already had the beginnings of the
amazingly long luxurious tail, the little
tuft on his rump incipient of the spray of
multicolored plumage that would later cause
cars passing by on the road near the
chicken yard to slow and sometimes even
stop for a better look at this astonishing
bird.  He was of no particular breed, and
perhaps his being a fellow mutt had
something to do with my love and admiration
of him.

Here in the middle of  heartland farm
country, where there is no critter so
common as a domestic chicken, he grew into
a star in just five months.    Though he
was smaller by far than my neighbor
Richard's giant Rhode Island Red rooster,
he raided Red's harem and  hen-napped the
best of his rival's girls.  Once when the
other rooster managed to get into the open
pen (the chickens are free-range) Fabio
kept him on top of the chicken house for
two days, Red unwilling to come down and
face the wrath of his tormentor.  I finally
had to rescue Red and set him free in his
own yard, where he stayed from then on.

This winter was brutal, and the tips of
both Fabio and Red's combs grew black with
frostbite.  And whether this had something
to do with his subsequent illness I do not
know, for Red weathered the winter fairly
well, while Fabio grew increasingly
listless, his brilliant plumage began to
turn dull, and he kept more and more  to
himself.  But other than hoping he'd grow
strong again I took no action.  Perhaps I
should have brought him in and nursed him,
but I don't think it would have changed the
outcome.  His decline continued, until the
day my granddaughter Roos found him dead
beneath my window.

Critters do come and go, and the memory of
them is often all we have.  Fabio has now
joined the pantheon of astonishing animals
it has been my pleasure to know.  Buster
the sentient cat, Czar the sparkling dog,
the list is long.

It is a new season here in Rockvale, the
daffodils at first tentative now exploding
into bloom, my little fruit tree saplings
and the willow cutting  I got from Richard
last fall just beginning to leaf out and
there is a lot to be thankful for.  But I
do miss Fabio, and regret that it never
occurred to me to take a picture of him.  I
guess that somehow he was so brilliant that
I thought he was going to be around forever
and so never bothered.

It is a new season, and Red has once again
become the cock of the walk, the major
dude, the hero in the eyes of the swooning
hens.  But still they return to Fabio's
pen, not Red's, to lay their eggs each day.
 It's probably merely habit, I suppose, and
I guess the idea of chicken romance is a
foolish one, another of my anthropomorphic
fancies that sometimes send my experienced
and hardened rural neighbors into fits of
guffaws, but I don't mind.  Fabio was way
cooler than any of us.

Farewell, dude.