Winter storms remind me of my beloved Beethoven.
It was autumn when we moved into our 1820s farm house in Hunters Valley in south central Pennsylvania. We had the illusion of owning half a hemisphere. We were surrounded by forests, streams, fields, and state games lands and at the time, couldn't see another house from horizon to horizon. By Christmas, a friend who owned a similar property, had convinced me that we needed a little more activity on the vacant acreage.
So on Christmas morning, I prepared two large golden packages. They were wrapped so the lids could be removed immediately for the comfort of the temporary guests inside. The backs of the boxes were completely open to prevent the tails from being crushed, and the girls positioned them so all the feathers were hidden beneath the Christmas tree. Mike’s face lit up when he opened the boxes to discover two peacocks!
It was mid-April when I heard Mike on the phone with Ruth Buck, a reporter for the local newspaper. “Well, we have at least three hundred birds,” Mike stated casually. I stopped and turned. Stunned.
I knew the collection had grown - iridescent white peacocks joined the blues, there were Bourbon Reds, Bronze and Royal Palm turkeys, Golden Pheasants, rheas, Dia Rhea and Gonna Rhea (another story- these two made NPR news!).
There were guineas and partridges, ducks and geese, and yes, chickens - White Japs, Silver Sea Brights, Silkies and Mille Fleures, and the Araucanas with pastel colored eggs. Oh, maybe I should have known. . . but three hundred?
Mike made a quick exit as he hung up the phone. I didn’t follow. When I questioned him later, he was amused and evasive. Details unfolded the following week when Ruth’s article was published
Through the years, many of the birds won my heart. My favorite was Beethoven, a Mottled Houdan of French heritage with a mop on his head. I hadn’t paid much attention to him until he became the victim of an ice storm.
There is a special beauty when ice encrusts every surface on the winter landscape. I looked out the kitchen window, content to stay inside. Mike ventured out to check on the animals and found one of the chickens frozen in a heap at the base of the black walnut tree where he had roosted for the night. As he picked him up, he was certain he was dead, and he mentally prepared himself to dispose of the body. He sighed as he took a final glance, then noticed his eye move. Plans changed.
“Here, want to do something with this?” he asked as he handed me the frozen bird. I gathered towels and spent the rest of the morning seated against the walk-in fire place in the kitchen. I held the shivering chicken as the ice melted, changing towels as they became soaked. Eventually I was able to comb his fur like feathers to remove more ice. It took hours. There was no struggle from the bird who was still partially frozen, exhausted from being near death, probably frightened, and possibly even understanding that I was trying to help. He smelled like the chicken in the package in the grocery store, an odor I had never noticed on any of the birds before. Chilling.
As he thawed he began to squirm, and when I finally put him down on the floor he had regained his energy and spirit. Chicken body language made it clear that he was ready to go back outside! As I opened the door, I was concerned that the shock from warm to frigid would be too much for him, but I needn’t have worried. This was one tough little bird!
There is a feeling of intense pleasure in knowing that an animal acknowledges your efforts. He did. From that time on he gave me his attention when I was outside. His tousled mop bounced on his head as he ran toward me, and occasionally, he even jumped into my arms.
Beethoven had another friend – a fluffy buff Orpington that we called Mrs. B. They may not have formally tied the matrimonial knot, but they eventually became inseparable, walking around the property side by side, morning, noon and night. Beethoven’s tail was very skinny with a few fabulous foot long feathers flowing behind. Mrs. B’s hind end was enormous! She must have had millions of tiny feathers on her sizable girth. He was black and white; she was golden. Their differences were striking. Their adoration for each other was unquestionable. They were a lesson in acceptance and love. As with all things in nature, the birds taught me numerous lessons over the years.
I never actually counted the entire collection How could I? They were scattered across the property, and the peacocks, guineas and turkeys roamed the valley, visiting our neighbors, much to their delight. The collection continued to grow. As Mike noted in Ruth’s article, “I’ll admit I’m a mad collector. I haven’t even begun to get serious.”
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!