On an online board somewhere out in the land of internets, there is a post about someone losing their chicken. Trust me, it's out there. And in the comment section, there is this - "It's only a chicken."
Not even a measly she or he, but the most distancing of pronouns - it.
Then there is the only-a-chicken part as if who we bond with them must pass a litmus test, achieve something greater than the only-a criteria. Only a dog. Only a cat. I've heard well-meaning people try to comfort the grieving parents of a lost infant by opining that, well, at least they didn't live long, didn't suffer long, or hey, you didn't put them through college or anything grandiose like that. Only a...
Grief is grief is grief. It's a living, breathing thing. It can be the soul-eating grief of losing a beloved, someone so near and dear to your heart that they might as well have taken up residence amongst ventricles. It can be the mind-numbing unexpected loss, the kind that takes your breath away, leaving you empty and drained. Sometimes it is a passing thing, strolling through uninvited, shaking you up. Other times it sits there, waiting for an opportune moment to rear its head, make you remember, make you feel. And that ache can happen no matter who you mourn for - a neighbor, a beloved dog, a parent or child, your best friend, even a perfect stranger. It's a strange thing, grief. Never an only a deal.
I present to you, Arturo:
He is dead, no longer ruling leader of the chicken clan. I had a dream about him, flying over gates, spreading orange feathers gently over a small hen, cooing to his young, alive.So very alive.
Arturo was born at the sanctuary, a small fluffy creature, cheeping, calling, awaiting the day he too would be a big chicken. The hens loved Arturo. His mating ritual was a thing to behold, an intricate display of "rooster-ness" combined with gentleness. It is no wonder the hens liked him - he took his time, no "grab and go", nothing rough and tumble in the way he showed his love. He made it a point to interrupt the rougher roosters, shoving them bodily off of unhappy hens. He wouldn't take their place, only gently groom rumpled hens. I loved this about Arturo, a rare gem among roosters!
It was not like I was particularly close to him, I admired him from a distance. He rarely took a bad photo, and if he did, I'd never betray his secret. I loved how the other chickens would flock to him, watching him closely as he pecked in the grass or scratched in the dirt. When he would sun-bathe, flinging a wing dramatically out, at least three or four other birds would emulate. Yoga with Arturo, master of the Phoenix Sun Pose.
One day, seven baby birds emerged from the hills, trailing their mother. She had hidden her nest well, warming it every night, waiting for the perfect moment when tiny beak met shell and a new life emerged. While we cringed at adding seven birds to the flock, we marveled at these tiny lives, strutting, running, flitting from one spot to the next. As they aged, it was quite obvious who fathered them. Newman is large like Arturo but lacks his social graces, he is not a benevolent ruler. Arturo would not be proud. Kramer looks the most like Arturo with his speckled orange feathers. I am hoping he will turn out like his dad. And then there is Cosmos, who I am pretty certain is not Arturo's but that of Danny, a tiny Japanese bantam who had a secret rendezvous with Cosmos' mother. All four hens look exactly like their mother, tiny, feisty, no-nonsense hens.
Arturo started to decline, hunched over more days than not. He would go up the hill a ways, crouched by himself. The day before he died, I watched a strange thing happen. More than a third of the birds walked up to where Arturo sat, uncomfortable. They surrounded him, several groomed him, and I had to run back to my office to grab a camera. Even the other roosters were coming up, keeping a respectful distance but not challenging him. I only caught a few of the birds surrounding him, but I think it speaks volumes about how important Arturo was to the flock. Even if they are crappy photos.
And then he was gone. Just like that, one day out there leading hens to prime dust-bathing spots, the next an Arturo-sized hole. I can't say the flock acted any different. I don't know whether chickens mourn, I like to think some do. I know they form bonds and make friends, along with enemies. They gossip all day long (Arturo never did, because he was kind like that). If some of the chickens did mourn, I did so right alongside them. He did not live as long as he should, though he lived every day gloriously and happily. A good life for only a chicken.