I can feed maple leaves to the goats. They know it is a social thing. They like it, and I like it. The goats are covered with bristly fur. Actually, it is hair, like I have. They chew with a mouth like mine. They think about playing, and eating, and they think about how they love the mountains with a mind not unlike mine. But a chicken…
What is she thinking?
The Chicken: aggregate of feather and hollow tubes, she is architecture of fluff, bathing in the dust, six inches of complex feather arrangements surrounding what little flesh she has, she is surprisingly light when we pick her up- which we could only do against her wishes. She seems to be made of feather, the love of foraging, and barnyard drama. I can penetrate no further into this fowl mind.
What is she thinking?
I can observe. Her fidelity to Chanticleer, the older Leghorn rooster: total. Violently she eschews the advances of the up-and-coming exotic Americauna rooster, the other rooster, that one called Toothy.
She and her sisters cluck about him all day long: “Did you see how he tried to get at her?” “My Stars!” “Sneaky!” “And so Rough!” But ladies, I must ask, is he only so rough because he is so frustrated, so universally shunned? It is best to leave one’s feminism at the chicken gate.
Indeed, no human ideas seem to apply to these soil-scratchers, these worm-catchers, these dust-bathing egg-hatchers. The cock their heads at me to ascertain intent, and they are never satisfied. What are they thinking? And what am I thinking? that beedy eye betrays no thoughts that I can recognize. What is in the bird brain? Most people are at least a little bit afraid of chickens. They swarm picnics. They don’t seem to feel fear. They don’t respond to swatting or herding in a way I could call logical. But human logic is my yardstick, and it is not up to the task of understanding the barnyard.
What is she thinking?
Now take these goats.
They make milk. They are motivated to mouthe, to suckle. They have teats. This is why we have these goats, here, wild and mountainous and trouble-making in our barnyard: For the delicious, musky miracle of their milk. I also make milk, and my little babe suckles and suckles and suckles.
She is a milk-fed babe, and like those milk-fed pumpkins of legend, she is nice and fat, enormous really: a prize-winner, juicy with life, her upper lip sparkling in the sun.
Even dads have nipples, just in case
This is the reason for the whole Phylum: Mammalia. Mammaries. Milk. The breast. The breast our first love and milk our original food, suckling our first obsession, the nipple our fresh-from-the-womb replacement for the constant rush of life from the umbilical chord, sweet warm milk our reward at the end of the treacherous trip through the birth canal. This is the reason we call our galactic home The Milky Way. Our ancestors looked into the night sky and saw the sweet twinkling beads of the Mother Goddess’ milk, squirting across the cosmos. My baby nurses with her arms wrapped around my breast like someone trying to hug a giant Sequoia. So I can look at these goats, and the neighbour’s cows certainly, and grandma’s dog, even a whale, or a lion, or a monkey, I can look them all in the eye, and know a little something.
Sweet beads of twinkling milk.
But take yonder broody hen in the barn.
Four little fluffy peep-peeping babes she has- not even her own, likely, you know, she just took it into her unfathomable head one day to sit down on a nest where the girls had all been laying, and she stayed sat until the eggs cracked open. Who knows- one of these little ones could have even been fathered by the sneaky and aggressive Toothy!
But how does she feed these little sweet fluffs? There’s no milk! No milk, no heartbeat connecting , no umbilical chord mediating between mamma and baby. There’s just these eggs, these self-contained little hard pods of breakfast, but because this hen decided to sit down one day in June, there’s baby chicks, emerging perfect and ready to eat solid foods, twenty one days later!
Now how can I relate to that? There’s no milk! Got milk, mother hen? She hasn’t. She has two sets of claws and a sharp beak, and a plan to show her babies how to use their own. All my babe has done, at three months old, is mouthe a little strawberry pulp. She treated it like a nipple made of fruit.
It was the rooster, at last, who reached me. Not the teen-aged and exotically plumed Toothy, of course, but the elder statesman and favorite of the ladies, Chanticleer the leghorn.
I think I know what she’s thinking
I stood in the barnyard on a fine spring morning and it was in gratitude, a morning of my heart beating out thanks, thanks, thanks, and in this gaze my eyes hit the eyes of Chanticleer, and he was doing the same, he was thanking the Great Mother Hen in the sky, and he knew that I saw his heart, and I knew that he saw mine, and none could say which of us was more surprised.
Not releasing me, gripping with his beady look this first precious connection between us, he leapt smoothly onto the back of the hen directly in front of him, and he mated with her, staring at me the whole time. These things, finally, I can share with a chicken.