Moving from the city to the country was a dream-filled idea. We, like many who move from urban to rural environments, had romanticized ideas about what life would be like. We came with our "live and let live" philosophy, naively believing life could be that simple. Some of the more realistic of those dreams and philosophies pan out; others are so romantic they belong in the fiction section of the brain.
For instance, when I imagined chopping wood for the blazing hearth, I didnt consider the backbreaking work of hurling a heavy ax through the air, splitting oak dense as iron, splinters flying, hands blistering. And, after that bone-tiring workout, the wood has to be stacked; another backbreaking labor.
Another dream was having our children grow up in pristine, pine-scented air. No one tells you that half the population on earth is severely allergic to pine pollen and my kids and I belong to that afflicted half. So from January to June, we are a weepy family. Since we appear to be crying all the time, youd never know how happy we were to move from the toxic city to our country paradise.
We also dreamed of incorporating into our daily lives, some of the simple, soul-satisfying chores of our American ancestors. We were not prepared to go as far as to don chaps and learn to rope cattle, but we could build a pen and raise chickens. Our children would learn responsibility by feeding and tending animals. At dinner parties, we would nod knowingly when the conversation turned to the topic of "farm fresh eggs." We imagined the pearly light of dawn punctuated by the gentle cockadoodledooing of the majestic rooster. We never suspected this promising venture of raising chickens for fresh eggs and country ambiance would turn out to be such a bitter disappointment.
After six years of integrating chicken cultivation into our family life, I have come to understand what all political conservatives already know: liberals should not own chickens.
When city people or intellectuals throw around the phrase "pecking order," they dont know the half of it. Intellectually, these urban dilettantes understand the idea of the strong picking on the weak. Bullies are everywhere and the pecking order dominates playground life. Whole forests, reduced to pulp in the form of "self help" books, assist society in dealing with bullies--helping bullies see the error of their ways, helping bullies come to terms with their past, helping bullies to be nice. Well meaning therapists-turned-authors sincerely believe that through the use of such sensible techniques as "behavior modification" and "logical consequences," -- or, in other words, by bludgeoning offenders with lots of tedious words--bullies can learn to change their behavior and become positive participants in society, helpful even.
And always, there are lots of true-to-life anecdotes illustrating how famous people we all know used these techniques and now no longer engage in such bullying behavior as biting off opponents ears or stealing billions in pension funds from widows, orphans and guys who put in 30 years at the company store.
It turns out you cannot take that lofty philosophy and apply it to barnyard relationships. Its a tough lesson for an educated liberal who is used to talk therapy, but roosters are simply bullies.
"Behavior modification" in the form of withholding food for transgressions in behavior or by giving food for good behavior doesnt hold with chickens. "Logical consequences" in the barnyard, consist of a place kicker-type snap in the rooster's side sending him across the field. Forget what the farm bureau consultant said about chickens not being able to fly. They can.
What the liberal eventually learns after he recycles all the self-help books he has read is that a rooster will always be a rooster and he will act in the only way he knows how, like a rooster. He will always sexually assault every hen within reach and in full view of everyone, including the children who are being raised without television because of its gratuitous sex and violence. He will always rip tail feathers from bedraggled hens who begin to resemble tonsured monks without the beatific aura. He will always attack small children whose job it is to fill the food trays. He will show no mercy until that child has nightmares about doing her chores and being attacked by a hideous three-headed gorgon with spurs of iron.
The liberal chicken owner, ever the optimist and with his vast experience in conflict resolution, will automatically try to make it work out in the chicken-yard. He will erect elaborate fences, to safeguard the terrified and traumatized child while still preserving the rooster's integrity and right to be a rooster. But one day the rooster will escape and attack the child again, this time drawing blood and the liberal chicken owner will snap. He will grab that heavy ax, previously used only to chop wood for the blazing hearth, and discover it has another use.
And an uneasy peace will descend upon the chicken yard. Dawn is quieter, the children are happier and the hens have never looked so good. The parent, a former liberal with a "live and let live" philosophy, has just faced his romantic notions--with an ax.
Madeleine DeAndreis is a writer living in northern California.