Animal Spirit Stories: The Ladies and the In-Laws
THIRTY YEARS AGO, Ondrea and I were living in Taos, New Mexico. “The Ladies” were ensconced quite comfortably in their long, warm chicken coop. They sat in their nests, and the yard was full of the communal clucking of brooding hens and patrolled by the bright avian spark that is a Rhode Island Red rooster.
We raised Rhode Island Reds for the eggs. So, the hens would not live in such deplorable conditions. We also adopted a few “egg factory” white Leghorns whose beaks had been clipped short so as to be able to live in severely overcrowded conditions without causing injury to themselves or each other. They had been discarded because they had stopped laying.
Where their beaks had been trimmed, they continued to grow into what resembled collagened lips—they were sad Leghorns with Betty Boop lips. After about a month of proper feeding and nesting space, they began to lay again. Their eggs were golden.
Once, when we were unexpectedly visited by a high Tibetan Lama, a Tulku, while I was preparing supper, I asked him if he would care to share in the meal I was preparing, hesitantly adding that we were having chicken for supper, which I did not know was acceptable to his practice.
Noting my discomfort, he laughed and said, “Yes, chicken, please. You know, I do chicken great favor.
I turn chicken into Lama.”
Noticing little things
Eggs were stirring in the incubator, and all was right with the world.
I don’t think I even noticed the first one, the first world, that is. The one we are born into, which our needs split apart like it’s too small a skin shed. It landed unnoticed.
One day, a lone homing pigeon fluttered into the chicken yard. I saw her doing a little sand-shoe dance but never thought that her friends and relatives might be on the way.
I had forgotten that, like bees, birds dance to map the way to new food sources. To make a long story short, that single pigeon became about forty in the next weeks.
All of them inhabiting the large coop, eating enough of the chickens’ cracked corn to create ethanol to heat their plump little bodies and make flight fuel.
Many varieties of homing and European rock doves, along with the overbearing King pigeon and a few other natty dressers, like magpies, dropped by to mingle with the growing herd. And squirrels and skunks came in as the night janitors and rabbits peered through the fencing.
In the coop was the sound of heaven. Entering, we were surrounded, lifted into the pure cacophony. The soul music of dozens of chickens murmuring and scores more of the squatter pigeons in a chorale.
When we moved from Taos up into the mountain woodlands, with the chickens in tow, the coyotes began to survey the menu from behind an oak shrub or a well-lichened boulder, waiting for their chance. A year or so into our new digs, the free-ranging flock was getting thinned, and the chickens had to go back into a large run beside the new chicken house.
Big Red: Beyond the Rules of Survivors
Just sitting on the bare ground, not pecking, or scampering about, so obviously depressed them. That we decided to let them run as they wished.
And though the coyotes eventually eliminated the chickens, the chickens that ran were the first to be caught. It took the coyotes some months to weave past the dogs and make a grab. But still, they never got Big Red. She was different from the rest.
Having survived longer than all the others, having broken all the rules for survival, neither fleeing nor fighting but remaining in the stillness, she outlived them all and died quietly in her nest, her glottis vibrating to Mozart.
Birds—on the ledge, in the sanctuary marsh, or scratching about the big coop—have long been one of my most precious intercessors with the shadow that turns life to stone. Birds are the only creatures that can cross the three natural elements.
They can walk on the earth, fly into the blue air, and dream. They can inhabit almost every realm, including water, as cormorants, loons, and pelicans plunge to fly beneath the waves.
We are born seeking wholeness. Birds can remind us of our original song and our acrobatic nature and show us a beauty painted by the same brush as tropical flowers.
Reprinted with kind permission from Animal Sutras: Animal Spirit Stories, by Stephen Levine, published by Monkfish Book Publishing Company, Rhinebeck, NY.
About The Author:
He is one of a generation of pioneering teachers who made Theravada Buddhism more widely available to students in the West.
Like the writings of his colleague and close friend Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert). Levine’s work is also flavored by devotional practices.
He derived them from the teachings of the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba.
Levine spent many years in the Southwest, including one tending a wildlife sanctuary in southern Arizona.
He did the same while he lived among the mountains of New Mexico. Ondrea still lives there. His many books include: Who Dies? A Year to Live, Unattended Sorrow, and Healing into Life and Death.
Ministry Earth is a collective Awareness-Raising, Perception-Building Initiative from Humanity Healing International, Cathedral of the Soul Educational outreaches created to introduce the perspective of Ethical Consciousness and Nonhuman Personhood to its Animal & Eco Ministries. Ministry Earth is a Service-Oriented Initiative and its Magazine is a Copyrighted Publication of OMTimes Media, Inc. Broadcasting and Publishing House.