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Monday, August 22, 2016

Prose And Poultry



When I was little my world was full of walnuts and chickens. One of my jobs as a five-year-old was dragging a gunny sack under a tree to collect fallen walnuts. Once I got a couple dozen in the sack I'd swing it round in front of me and kick it with every step, which made a satisfying crunch that 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,  because they seemed to call each other Buck and mutter "buck" about everything, I considered other possibilities. Years later I tried stiffening my lips in approximation of a beak and found it impossible to pronounce the letter F. Came out B. Mystery solved. I learned something of the general discontent of chickens.

But this is not intended to become an autobiography. Typical of boys my age I have an aversion to the finality of the form. After one experiences a few blows in life, one feels a bit  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.  I  will restrict my comments to barnyard animals.

Childhood observation was recalled to me as I sat in the back porch with one of my grandsons. We heard roosters crowing to the west, to the south, then more distantly to the east. Once those in all directions knew of each other, they crowed back and forth incessantly.

Grandson asked what they were saying. I said, "Traditionally, '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?" He asked .

A riddle with no answer, or an answer so obvious as to need no articulation besides silence, followed by repetition --an enigma! 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 scholarly personal essay in hopes that others will explore the language of chickens and contribute to a lexicon --an addition to the Rosetta Stone that includes poultry. Remember to consult children in this endeavor, especially if you aren't a child yourself.  Children remind us we are on this planet to learn, to imagine and to have a little fun every day.

30 comments:

  1. Hi Geo - a delightful look into the life of Grandfathers and Grandsons ... minding the family yard: interpreting life as seen from an earlier level. Walnuts and chickens I can relate to ... but our chickens were in a pen at that stage - as the fox was about!

    Lovely - thank you .. cheers Hilary

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    1. Most kind. Communicating with grandchildren is indeed a refreshing meditation.

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  2. A wonderful post and hilarious as well. Your stiff lip research into the difference of F and B has given me an entirely new view of chicken chatter. I will never hear them again without laughing and thinking of your post. And your grandfather/grandson research into the plaintive call of roosters is simply historic.
    Thanks for adding so much fun to our day.

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    1. And thank you,Tom, for your encouraging comment. Fun is important!

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  3. I suspect that part of you will remain a child forever. And hope that the same is true of me.
    Magic and mystery round every corner.

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    1. I suspect so too. We're composites of all ages we've been and must be kind to our inner child.

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  4. You had a beautiful exchange with your grandson. He learned to listen to the language of the chicken. Then he was encouraged to try to interpret what the roosters were saying. You allowed him to use his imagination which is a measure of his intelligence. You two are fortunate to have each other.

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    1. Imagination is essential to our communication, and laughter.

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  5. Children have the uncanny ability to resurrect our faded memories and ignite them with new colors.

    You've reminded me of the walnut trees that surrounded our house in Calif. when I was six. You could hear them falling on the roof - plop, plop...I would always go out and gather them in a big paper sack.
    I always knew that chickens had a pathetically small vocabulary, but I never realized it was X-rated.

    There are numerous roosters around here that start crowing long before dawn. I never paid close attention to what they say, but I like hearing them.

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    1. Walnut retrieval is an important job for kids. I did it well into adulthood. And you're right about roosters; they start shouting their one riddle before sun-up and don't stop all day. They never tire of it.

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  6. Time spent with grandchildren are always so educational. We learn so much from them. From the beginning of time, man has been listening to roosters and hearing their sound incorrectly, It takes a child to discover the true voice of the barnyard bird. Next question to ask him is, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

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    1. Delightful Arleen, I shall ask grandson the chicken-egg question next time I see him --which I hope is soon because time spent with grandchildren is not deducted from one's lifespan.

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  7. What beautiful memories! And your insight about chickens being unable to form fricative consonants had me in tears. :)

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    1. Most kind. Indeed, phonetics is a study in constant expansion. We must adjust for all species if it ever to become an exact science.

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  8. SO funny!

    And you made me question my own interpretation of chicken talk - I keep thinking they're all cursed by the same stutter, and all trying to ask for bok choy. Your explanation makes far, FAR more sense :)

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    1. O Jenny, thank you! But bok choy has lately been increasingly popular as an ingredient in chicken soup. If I were a chicken among peers, I'd certainly be discussing it. You give me new food for thought!

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  9. A particularly perverted way of interpreting this would be that the chickens are actually commenting on people's choice of eating...what parts of the chicken we americans most often eat. The breast. Why, one, or at least I, wonder. It's the part with the least flavor. Thighs win out every time. Jim Harrison did a couple of essays on this, if one can imagine a writer of his talent doing such a thing. Chickens, were they food critics, I'm sure would nod at Harrison's opinions, perhaps stretching out a leg for us to see.

    I think I've wandered off course here. Anyway, fall is making it's coming known here, it was 31f when I made coffee at 7, my house got up to a moderate 59 this afternoon. I refuse to put the heat on until the first of September.

    Geo, as usual, I have nothing to add to the presence of knowledge or conversation that is relevant.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. Knowledge and conversation be damned, I welcome ALL comments. When met with silence, I complain "Alas, it seems nobody loves me!" But seriously, my favorite Harrison food quip comes from an interview with Mario Batali: "They’re a great eating quail. I don’t like to shoot them particularly, because they remind me of kittens." I think that kitten bit was because he was also a poet. As to cuts served in restaurants, too many customers still value the appearance of eating things with utensils instead of fingers -like I do- hence boneless parts are overstocked.

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    2. Oh, I beg to differ! Thighs are tasty, but I think wings win hands-down. That's because they have a higher ratio of delectable skin to meat. And I say FIE! to anyone who insists on removing all skin before cooking or eating chicken. (Um, the CHICKEN'S skin, not his own... just for clarification.) I figure, I've already outlived my mother and both grandmothers, so if I die by virtue of eating chicken skin, steak fat, or a raw oyster, so be it!

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    3. Agree, somewhat. I don't care for the fact that wings when the 'buffalo wings' route in most places, but that's quibbling somewhat.

      Geo, I heard, listening to KUOW online, a programme they're trying out: New Yorker Radio Hour. It was a tape of a conversation a young writer had with Tom McGuane, and Harrison, known to both of them, came up frequently. You might find a podcast of it.
      I had dinner one night in Livingston, when Chatham had his restaurant, with Harrison and a bunch of locals. Fun, but negated the notion of driving the 136 miles back to Butte that night.


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  10. I'm glad you and your grandson figured it all out. And I must say, I, for one, am quite grateful chickens are unable to articulate the F sound. Society is already littered with far too much angry profanity, without the chickens adding their fowl language to the mix. :)

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly, Susan, and delight in your play on words --you have a skill and gift in that form. I grew up hearing my mother (a teacher of several languages) utter head-spinning puns. Are you sure we're not related?

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  11. Woah! A rooster crows four syllables, not five? I'm going to obsess over this. At least until the next time I hear one in person.

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    1. Dear Squid, when the occasion presents itself, I'm sure you'll find my grandson correct. However, the interrogative rise in rooster-inflection is deceptive --now referred to as "upspeak". Surprised me too!

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  12. I admire the precision of your hearing organs. Growing up, the roosters seemed to say merely "Rrr, rrr, rrr, rrr ROOOO."

    Then again, there were distinctly five syllables, so maybe ours were immigrants, and I simply did not know the language.

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    1. I likewise used to hear 5 syllables and suspect my hearing has changed --or roosters have evolved to where they use contractions. Maybe there an apostrophe in rrr'ROOO now.

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  13. Oh I love this post!!! Putting it on iBrattleboro! It's too timely!
    x

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  14. I don't want to put on airs, but I speak a smidgen of chicken, myself, and I think they might have been saying, "What the BUCK?" "What the BUCK?

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    1. You could very well be right. Chicken language has not been well-studied by philologists --efforts like yours will eventually correct that.

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