“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” – Albert Einstein
When I was very young, around 6 or 7, my dad would take my sister and me to Mr. Stephens’ farm. Mr. Stephens was a successful real estate man who loved the country and animals.
His property was located outside of my hometown in the rural part of the county. It was a beautiful place. His pond was filled with fish and surrounded by all types of wildlife. Ducks, geese, and chickens were everywhere.
And then there were the cats.
I’m not sure if the cats were just unchecked and consequently multiplied like rabbits (there were also rabbits), or if Mr. Stephens was an animal hoarder. But there were lots and lots of cats.
Either way, when you’re a little kid, going to a farm like that one was like stepping into The Wonderful World of Disney – it was, “In Living Color.”
There was a man who worked for Mr. Stephens. I guess he was a sort of farm hand. I don’t recall his name, but his job appeared to be keeping things running smoothly, and making sure that every creature had something to eat. And that any visiting little boys and girls learned how to fish.
One side of the pond was surrounded by a thick growth of bamboo. The farm hand would let me pick out a bamboo pole, then he sawed it down and cut the length of the pole to fit me.
We tied string around the end of the pole and attached a sinker, a hook, and a cork. He and my dad showed me how to find worms. We dug up several and put them in a cup.
As I prepared to fish, I heard a baby screaming. I looked everywhere to see where it was and why it was crying, but I didn’t see a baby. All I saw was a very large and colorful chicken. At least, that’s what I thought it was.
My dad informed me that that wasn’t a chicken. It was a peacock. He also warned me to keep my distance. Peacocks are beautiful, he said, but they’re also territorial.
My sister and I stood there staring.
“Wait and be quiet,” my dad said. “He might show off for you.”
We froze and looked. And looked. Suddenly, the peacock finally fanned his tail feathers and put on the most amazing display.
We had no words. I was a little bit frightened. Having never witnessed anything like that before, I wasn’t sure what would come next. The bird continued to strut with his feathers extended, but he turned and headed the other direction.
As it turned out, changing directions was also in my future.
I grew up in town (albeit a small town, but we considered it city living, nonetheless). Later, after I left home and started a family, I would gravitate toward the country. Unconsciously, toward a country place similar to Mr. Stephens’.
If you were to ask my mother now, she would likely tell you that out of her children and grandchildren, I was the least likely to wind up on acreage, driving a tractor, and embracing the wildlife. But, that’s exactly what happened.
Maybe it was innate. My father and mother both grew up in the country, and my dad taught me a lot about animals. He taught me that animals are a lot like people. Each has his role, and understanding them is the key to appreciating them.
Several years ago, after living in a much bigger city than the small town in which I’d grown up, I felt the city encroaching. I was cramped. Even though I had never lived more than a few minutes away from a 7-11, we decided that we needed the country life. We bought a home on a few acres and, having little to no experience with living in the country, we moved to the woods.
One of the first things my wife and I learned was that the animals and vegetation own your place, you’re just guests there.
We also learned that nature’s visitors are frequent, unannounced, and always surprising.
About five years after moving in, I was in the yard one day when I noticed a large, black duck in the pond. This was a particularly unattractive duck and I didn’t put him there, so I called my neighbor to find out why he’d put an ugly duck in the pond we share.
He said it wasn’t his duck, so we were both a little baffled by its arrival. Turns out, domesticated fowl can and will relocate if the place they are living becomes too crowded.
The duck, “Donald” we named him, suddenly left after a couple of days. Two days later, he returned with a girlfriend. She was white and red, and better looking. We named her, “Daisy.”
Donald and Daisy decided to take up residence on our patio. She subsequently layed eggs in a large, empty plant pot and hatched four ducklings.
We enjoyed the duck family, but just as quickly as all of this had transpired, they were all suddenly gone.
Other visitors we’ve had, who stayed longer, have included dogs, cats, and now – a peacock.
When I first saw the peacock in the front yard, I called our neighbors who used to have peacocks to see if they had acquired more and maybe one had gotten out.
I thought, well, it’s probably just loose and will go back home.
After the second day, I began posting on social media and reaching out to veterinarians to see if someone was trying to locate one.
I named him “Fred.”
Fred likes ice water and cat food. Which, I’m glad that he does, because we were fresh out of peacock food. But, the feed store did recommend chicken feed, so I bought two bags of that.
I read up on peacocks and watched a few YouTube videos. Peacocks sleep in trees at night, and come out in the morning and evening to hang out. They are good at getting rid of snakes and sounding like a crying baby.
I’m not sure what else peacocks do, but I am happy that Fred chose us to share his life with. And if he decides to leave, come back with a girlfriend, and start a family, I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
But, I believe that Fred is a messenger. He arrived only a couple of weeks after my dad passed away. I took his arrival as a reminder of what my dad taught me long ago. Be nice, hospitable, and never forget that we are each responsible for understanding and respecting each of God’s creatures. When we do, it makes the world a much more enjoyable place.
©2018 John Moore
John’s book, “Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now” is available on Amazon.
Email John at John@TheCountryWriter.com