How a Rooster Rocked My World
By Sulana Stone
Our own life is the instrument with which we experiment with the truth.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen master
Every summer during the three-month school break, I’d stay with my grandparents on their small farm in the South. From their garden I picked the fresh vegetables we ate for our meals. And raiding the hen house for eggs was quite an adventure—if you weren’t fast enough one of the hens would nail you!
My grandmother was a terrific cook! No one could top her fresh homemade chicken dishes. Chicken and dumplings, barbecued chicken, and southern-fried chicken were my childhood favorites!
Moving to the Farm
Decades after my grandparents departed the earth, my life path led me to learn animal communication. And I end up pursuing my education at a country dog kennel. Living in a rustic guesthouse on several acres reminds me of being a kid again—and being back on the farm.
Caring for the pooches and learning to communicate with them is a blast. And when the kennel owners travel, I also tend the vegetable garden and all the farm animals. There are several frisky horses, some spirited felines, a gregarious goat, and a harem of exotic chickens plus their “king” rooster.
Most of the farm animals are quite social. Nuzzling with the horses is a treat, as is scratching the back of Petunia, the goat. Petunia has the run of the place and trots over anytime I’m in her vicinity for her complimentary “massage.” All the farm critters are friendly—except the chickens and rooster. The poultry keep strictly to themselves.
A Frozen Fowl
One frosty winter’s morn, with the owners out of town on vacation, I’m awakened at sunrise by a knock on my door. A burly guy repairing the roof on the main house spotted a chicken in one of the horse’s water buckets. “Being that it’s so cold, thought you outta know. Not movin’. Looks pretty dead to me,” he grumbles, then goes back to work.
Quickly I throw a coat over my pajamas and dash out to the stables. Sure enough, a chicken—rather “the king” rooster—has fallen through a thin crust of ice that formed overnight in a bucket of water. His head is the only part of his body sticking out of the icy tomb. Pieces of ice float around his red-combed neck. Snatching his stiff body from the watery grave, I tuck the drenched bird inside my jacket and scurry back to my guesthouse.
“No Dying on My Watch!”
An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.
– Martin Buber, Austrian philosopher
“Don’t you dare die! Not when I’m taking care of you!” I threaten the frozen fowl. Not a feather stirs. Is it too late? When I get close enough to feel if he is breathing, he opens his beady black eyes—for a split second.
The rooster is hanging onto life by a slim thread. Yet the dim spark in his eyes ignites my heart. “He doesn’t have much time left. Do something!” my spirit implores.
How Do You Warm Up a Frozen Wet Rooster?
Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man.
Just as one wants happiness and fears pain,
just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.
– His Holiness The Dalai Lama
I muse to myself, “How can I quickly—and safely—warm up a rooster?” I crank up the furnace, but it’ll be awhile before the house heats up. Dunking him in warm water doesn’t feel like a good idea. I don’t have a hair dryer. A heating pad. Or a portable heater. Suddenly I remember stories about people who were freezing to death who’d saved their own lives by cuddling together.
Bedding Down With “The King”
My pajamas are wet from carrying the fowl back from the stables. Inspired by the “cuddling story,” I strip off my damp clothes and jump naked into bed with the icy bird. Under layers of blankets, soon I’m toasty warm holding “the king” close to my heart. We lay together quietly for about an hour when I notice that his body is warmer.
By then the house has heated up so I get out of bed and take stock of the rooster. Lying motionless on the bed, he appears so skinny, his wet feathers plastered to his body. He’s barely breathing. Finally he opens his eyes and stares at me. “Hey, we’re getting somewhere!” I exclaim—mainly to encourage myself.
Hurriedly I line a dog crate with blankets and move the thawing fowl into the enclosure. Then dash to the store to buy a hot water bottle to add warmth to the crate.
Ever so slowly, the rooster makes a comeback. Two days later, a wobbly but “triumphant king” is strong enough to return to his harem of hens. And I fully expect life on the farm to go back to normal.
Sowing the Seed of Awareness
Well, the farm routine resumes—with one exception. The rambling rooster has changed—dramatically! The previously aloof bird now follows me everywhere I go. If I’m on the other side of the property and “the king” hears or sees me, he comes galloping over! Anytime I’m around, he deserts his hens to follow me like a lost puppy. He loves “just hangin’ together.”
Eventually my life path does lead me away from the farm and the rooster. But “the king”—his spirit—doesn’t leave me. I was unaware that during our time together the grand ole rooster had planted a seed of awareness inside my heart. A seed that would sprout a few years later.
The Heart of Change
Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own
and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.
– John Muir, American naturalist and conservationist
Long before I encountered “the king” I’d stopped eating beef, pork and lamb. Yet I still savored scrumptious chicken dishes like my grandmother used to make.
After leaving the farm, every time I ate chicken I warmly recalled the rollicking rooster running lickety-split across the barnyard to catch up to me—wanting to be with me after I saved his life. And I truly enjoyed having his company on my errands around the farm. Slowly, the seed of awareness the funky fowl had sown began to sprout—and my life began to shift.
I Couldn’t Forget
I couldn’t forget how much “the king” changed after our eyes met on that chilly winter morning. I couldn’t forget that “the king” chose hanging out with me over his harem of exotic chicks. That the affectionate bird had preferences. And made choices. I couldn’t forget the fondness I felt for the friendly fowl. How our hearts touched. Yet I tried to forget—every time I took a bite of chicken.
I won’t say it’s easy to give up eating a type of food that I’ve enjoyed my entire life. Especially a food that reminds me of precious moments with my grandparents. Yet I’ve added memories of precious moments with a “kindly king.” So I’m phasing chicken out of my diet. Fish too. Anything with eyes.
You know … as I recall … granny cooked up some pretty yummy veggie dishes!
Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.
– Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize winner