Contemplative moment at home with Burnsie

I recently went to see Disney’s new cinematic redux of The Jungle Book. It’s a keeper, if only because it’s not an animated cartoon for kids; it’s the unforgettable Rudyard Kipling story for adults. Neel Sethi, an American child actor of 12, is brilliant in the lead role playing the jungle boy, Mowgli, and voice-overs by Ben Kingsley (as the protective panther, Bagheera), Bill Murray (as the “bare necessities” bear, Baloo), and Christopher Walken (as king of the apes, King Louie), are superb. I came away from the theater thinking this compelling tale of human-animal affection and cooperation may well do more for ecology and save-the-animals rhetoric than all the talking-heads put together.

I’ve been a fan of the Britisher, Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), for years, especially after reading a collection of his poetry. He’s not a W. B. Yeats (although both men won Nobel Prizes), but Kipling’s poet’s ear for language, his mastery of rhyme and rhythm and content, are as good as it gets.  What I didn’t know until now was Kipling’s The Jungle Books were written while he lived in Brattleboro, Vermont, USA, where his first two children were born, Josephine and Elsie.

Born in Bombay, India, in 1865 to Britishers working abroad, educated in England, Kipling’s stock went way up for me when I discovered he declined most of the many honors which were offered him in his celebrated life, including a knighthood, the Poet Laureateship, and the Order of Merit, but in 1907 he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling is an unforgettable storyteller and Disney’s new rendering of The Jungle Book is worthy of the famous yarn-spinner’s vivid imagination. Those of us who’ve experienced the rare joys of intimate heart-bonds to animals as friends and teachers will delight in this movie. And who knows, perhaps this new Disney version will move even those who aren’t animal lovers but who love great stories and dramatic storytelling to open hearts and minds to the ’sharedness’ on board this ark of Earth and to Man’s place among the Many in the great Circle of Life.

Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile

Quiet moment at home with Burnsie

Life at Las Golondrinas is more interesting since I added a young Leghorn rooster to my chicken yard. No. It’s not just Foghorn’s nearly nonstop crowing. Life is ‘interesting’ because Foghorn is a character.

You recognize his name, I’m sure, from old-time TV cartoons, in which a big white nervous, nonstop talking rooster named, “Foghorn”, captured viewers’ hearts.

Blogger's Leghorn roosterI refurbished my chicken coop and chicken yard last autumn, motivated to get a new flock of hens for fresh, homegrown eggs. I chose six young hens that are a genetic cross of Leghorn and Rhode Island Red. Both those breeds are famous egg producers and I figured the cross-breeding would offer hybrid vigor and a healthy flock. I wanted to also add the country sound of rooster crowing in the morning, so, since my hens were half Leghorn and I have fond memories of the ‘Foghorn’ cartoon character, that’s the rooster I decided I wanted for my “Girls.”

I advertised on local Craigslist to buy a healthy young Leghorn rooster and found one at an Albuquerque feed store. He was about six months old and as the ‘youngster’ in the feed store’s rooster pen, he came somewhat subdued. That suited me fine, since aggressive animals are not welcome at my place.

Now, Leghorns originated in Tuscany, Italy, their name the anglicized pronunciation of the Italian port, Livorno. They came to the USA in the mid-1870s and today are one of the chief egg producing chickens in the world. The book on Leghorns is they are “A small, spritely, noisy bird with great style”. That pretty well sums up my Mr. Foghorn.

Blogger's flock of hens and roosterAnyone who’s ever lived around hens and roosters knows roosters are protective of their flock, guards over their territory, and keepers of their dignity. They can be aggressive. Their weapons of purpose are not the beak, but the spurs which grow on the backside of their leg above the foot, located somewhat like dew claws on a Scottie. The combination of aggressive squawking, flapping wings, and knife-like spurs can be intimidating, whatever the size of the rooster.

You get the picture, I’m sure. My Mr. Foghorn, who came to me the subdued object of bullying by mature roosters in his feed store pen, is now King of the Roost at Las Golondrinas and he’s making the most of it — including an occasional half-charge at me when my back is turned!

Blogger's rooster, Foghorn, crowingIt didn’t help, I now realize, that I spent the first weeks ‘teaching’ him to crow. I wasn’t hearing a peep out of him and I wanted him to find his voice, so I’d mimic rooster crowing when I entered the chicken yard at feeding time. Foghorn would crane his neck, cock his head, eye me up and down, apparently listening intently. I’m afraid what I saw as benign ‘voice teacher’ instruction, Foghorn instinctively took as rival rooster rhetoric and he’s not having it in his domain!

He got the demo alright. Now he crows nearly non-stop. And occasionally he does his ‘Mexican hat dance’ with his feet and tries to challenge me– turning tight circles while dragging his wings, the prelude to rooster aggression.

So life in my chicken pen is now a bit of an adrenaline rush: hens as docile as puppies who swarm around my feet when I enter bringing them ’salad’ greens at feeding time, and a beautiful all-white plumage rooster who is spritely, noisy, who has great “style” and attitude worthy of a Caledonian Highland Chieftan.

I won’t have animals at my place whom I can’t trust, who keep me looking over my shoulder. I want Foghorn to know my ’stew pot’ exists and I’ll use it.

So I’m trying to get the lesson through to him that I’m not a threat, but I’m also NOT a target for his hormones. I walk softly and carry a big stick — that is, I keep a long thin flexible switch on the inside of my chicken pen fence gate and use it periodically if the ‘Fog’ rolls in. He’ll get the schooling . . . or the stew pot.

So far my tactic is working in the chicken yard. The crowing hasn’t abated but Foghorn is following the ‘board of education’ rules!

Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile