, [carving on kitchen cupboard]
When I was little my world was full of chickens. One of my jobs as a five-year-old was dragging a gunny sack under a tree collecting walnuts. Once I got a few dozen in the sack I'd swing it round in front of me and kick it with every step. It made such a satisfying crunch and it attracted chickens. Chickens would follow me around and say, "buck, buck, buck."
I was sure the chickens thought my name was Buck and were trying to get my attention. But, by and by, and because they seemed to call each other Buck and mutter it about everything, I considered other possibilities. One day I tried stiffening my lips in approximation of a beak and found it impossible to pronounce the letter F. Mystery solved, and I learned something of the general disposition of chickens.
But this is not intended to become an autobiography. Typical of boys and girls my age I have an aversion to the finality of the form. After one experiences a few blows in life, one feels a bit vulnerable and impermanent and shies away from writing it up. This is instead a personal essay which, although containing some historical exposition, is another sort of thing entirely.
If I was writing an autobiography I would have begun,"I am the fourth of two children." It would be met with suspicion and I would have to admit many of my siblings and cousins are remembered only as undifferentiated protoplasm. So was I, and will restrict my comments to barnyard animals.
Childhood observation was recalled to me recently as I sat in the back porch with one of my grandsons. We heard roosters crowing to the west, then to the south, then more distantly to the east. Once those in all directions knew of each other, they crowed back and forth incessantly.
Benny asked what they were saying and I said, "cock-a-doodle-do."
He didn't think so. I listened. He was right, cock-a-doodle-do has five syllables and these roosters were crowing only four. The rise in pitch toward the end was right, but was revealed now as interrogative. A question?
"A riddle?" asked Benny.
A riddle with no answer, or a riddle whose answer was so obvious as to need no articulation besides silence. We listened carefully, trying to fit lyrics to their four notes. Finally we heard it together: Where's-the-bathRRROOOM? Where's the bathRRROOOM?
We got the answer simultaneously too: for a chicken, anywhere.
I post this personal essay in hopes that others will explore the language of chickens and contribute to the humble beginning of this lexicon. Remember to consult children in this endeavor, especially if you can't remember being one --or aren't one-- yourself.