If William Shakespeare had been an ornithologist instead of a playwright, he would have written, “To roost or not to roost. That is the question.” And if he had been a realtor, he would have written, “Location, location, location” followed by “Closings are such sweet sorrows.”
But what does this have to do with crane chicks, you ask? Plenty. If you’re a whooper chick and you want to have any real future, you must first learn to be a good rooster. Sound crazy? Maybe a little, until you stop for a moment and think about just how important the rooster is to America. Take Bob Dylan, for instance. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. “When the rooster crows at the break of dawn, look out your window and… I’ll be gone. You’re the reason I’m travelin’ on. Don’t crow twice, it’s alright.” And then there’s John Wayne. The “Duke” made about a gazillion movies without a single Academy Award Nomination until he played a cowboy named Rooster Cogburn in the movie “True Grit.” Then, “I’d… like to thank the Academy…”
Now, few Americans know just how close the Founding Fathers came to choosing the rooster as the symbol of our great country. Ben Franklin wanted the turkey, George Washington wanted the dollar bill, but it was Joe Bochagaloop, congressional delegate from Jersey, who nominated the rooster. And the rooster might well have won if it hadn’t been for the fact that Joe was also the Founding Father of the thin crust pizza. Seems that “Mr. B” who was at the time, in charge of procurement for the Continental Army, was buying thin crust pizzas from his brother Vinnie and charging the government for thick crusters, then pocketing the difference. He was so pleased with himself that he wrote a book about the whole affair entitled, “The Art of the Steal” which skyrocketed to No.1 on the Best Sellers List and made Joe an instant celebrity. The reality show offers began pouring in, which made the other Fathers so jealous that they banned him from any further participation in the Continental Congress. But it all turned out for the best for Joe because he returned to Jersey, repackaged the place as “New and Improved” Jersey and sold it back to the Continental Congress as the 13th state. Besides, any national anthem that begins with “Cock-a-doodle-doo” would just wind up irritating our NATO partners. Too many high notes.
The truth is, to Joe, the rooster was far more than just a male chicken. It was the very symbol of democracy itself… for what is democracy if not the ultimate quest for a safe and secure place for all its citizens to… roost. After all, in most of nature, sleep is a requirement. Waking up is not. And most of us sleep at night. But night is dark and dangerous and full of things that go bump. Night is the predator. “Yes. You can go to your friend’s house, but be home by 8 o’clock.”
In Whooper World, we know all too well how cruel and indifferent the night can be. It can and sometimes, does transform a beautiful whooper chick so full of hope and promise into an inanimate, heart wrenching pile of feathers. And so it is the “somewhere” that becomes critical. It can mean the difference between life and death. “Put that gun down, Sweet Pea. I swear to you I spent the night playing cards with the guys! Honest!”
Good roosting choices, therefore, become the order of the day and that means water. Water is benevolent and pro-whooper; a lifeguard, gate keeper and junkyard dog all rolled into one. It provides an alarmed moat for defense… a gated, guarded nocturnal community that announces any predator’s approach with its splish-splash alarm, giving whoopers ample time to flush. Without the benefit of such warnings, our little roosters become, well… sitting ducks.
But Mutt and Jeff are nothing if not thrill seekers. For the past 54 nights since their release, they have chosen to spend their nights in the exposed dry of either a harvested corn field or the neighboring cranberry farm. With perfect roosting habitat within walking distance, this is indeed puzzling and not at all what we would have expected. But then, if I have learned anything during my years in Whooper World, it is that the more I know about whoopers, the less I really know. And it turns out that I am in good company, because the more I know about our whooper experts, the less THEY know. It’s no one’s fault because in Whooper World, the words “I don’t know” simply don’t exist. But we try.
All of this doesn’t make our everyday morning arrivals any less of an exercise in breath holding. We sit staring into the darkness in hopes its leaving will reveal Mutt and Jeff standing upright and healthy, ready to take on the challenges of the new day. It is a nail biter to be sure. Lots of drama goes on backstage before the curtain goes up and it isn’t always good. And we never get used to it… with good reason. It wasn’t all that long ago that we arrived to find poor little 34-16 reduced to that all too familiar pile of feathers.
Why Mutt and Jeff refuse to surrender each night to the good rooster within them is a mystery. Is roosting in good habitat hardwired or learned behavior? Nature or nurture? Was the course “Roosting 101” back at “Whooper U.” an 8 o’clock class and they just slept through it? Or maybe they just identify more with hens than roosters. Like all the other mysteries of life, only the “Shadow” knows.
So, we continue our daily vigil and our practice of deep breathing while the new administration considers a replacement for our national symbol. I don’t know what they’ll come up with this time, but I do know the bird that would get my vote.
The rabbit’s foot.