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Faith in Vermont: Why Not?

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Posted on August 7, 2018 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Our telephone rang towards the end of dinner one night. My husband picked up the receiver; our neighbor was on the other end. 

“Are you hearing noises in the morning?” he asked.

It was an odd question to ask a family with four energetically verbal daughters, 19 chickens (including two roosters), seven ducks a-quacking, and one dog who barks at the slightest provocation. 

Are we hearing noises in the morning? When are we NOT hearing noises? 

My first response, when my husband repeated our neighbor’s question to me, was guilt. Were our roosters -- who crow not just at sun-up, but throughout the day -- becoming a nuisance? Did this have to do with my daughter’s ninth birthday party the previous day, when we’d had six rambunctious youngsters telling silly stories and dancing to the music in their heads around our fire pit long past bedtime? Or to that very morning, when four of those rambunctious youngsters awoke in the tent where they’d camped out in our yard, demanding assistance at 6:30 AM? 

The answer, it turned out, was none of the above. Our neighbor was simply inviting us to come over and see the white peacock that had settled in his yard.

Which did explain the noises we’d been hearing from next door. For several mornings in a row, when my daughters and I went outside to do the poultry chores, we’d noticed a strange sort of birdcall coming from the direction of our neighbors’ Christmas tree farm. “Did the Werners get a goose?” I’d mused aloud more than once. 

Needless to say, we stacked our dinner dishes next to the sink in record time, and raced next door. 

The white peacock was not actually a peacock; being female, the accurate term would be peahen. Shortly after we stepped through the trees separating our yard from our neighbors’, we spotted her, white plumage flashing between the green Christmas trees as she stalked regally through the rows. 

I’d never known that white peafowl existed, but apparently they’re a variation that results from being bred in captivity. In the safety of captivity, the peafowls’ recessive coloration genes, which would be a poor adaptation in the wild, feel free to emerge. Peafowl with reduced pigment are known as “leucistic.” 

This particular peahen was not large; her body was the size of one of our bigger ducks. But her grace was breathtaking, as she surveyed us warily with her crested head atop a long, curved neck. She was not a tame bird, and clearly had no interest in getting close to us.  Our neighbors said that she only approached them out of curiosity when they were engaged in various tasks, and departed swiftly when her presence was detected. 

Her wildness was part of the reason a white peahen had ended up roosting on a Vermont Christmas tree farm. It turns out that this peahen had originally belonged to a family in Cornwall, but for reasons known only to herself, she had left her original residence and traveled the five-or-so miles to Middlebury, taking up residence in our neighbors’ elm tree. Because there was no obvious way of catching her, everyone seemed resigned to this new arrangement. 

So there’s a white peahen on the loose in Addison County, Vermont. The obvious question would be, “Why?”

To which, lately, I would reply, “Why not?”

***

“From now on,” I said to my daughter, making eye contact in our minivan’s rearview mirror, “whenever somebody asks me ‘Why?’ I’m going to answer, ‘Why not?’”

We had just left a check-up at our pediatrician’s office. When I had told my daughter’s doctor that I would be homeschooling all of our children in the coming year, she’d asked, “Why?”

Out of habit, I began to explain, doing my best to sound logical and rational, attempting to convince both our doctor and myself that it wasn’t a completely nutty endeavor to take on the education of four girls with vastly differing ages and learning styles: We’d just sort of fallen into it on sabbatical, we loved it, it worked for us, everyone learned a lot, and NO we didn’t have anything against the local schools....

I prattled on and on, and it wasn’t until we left the parking lot that I realized all I’d needed to say in response was, “Why not?”

Perhaps it’s an insight that comes with middle age, but recently I’ve realized that I am under no obligation to explain myself. There is no law requiring that your life make sense to anybody else – or to yourself, for that matter. If you think back over some of the biggest, boldest – and, hopefully, best – decisions you’ve made over the course of your life (for me, these would include marrying my husband, having children, moving to Vermont, homeschooling my daughters, and buying the farm), how many of them were strictly logical, rational choices?

If you’re anything like me, almost all of those choices came down to a “Why not?” moment, as simultaneously nonsensical and beautiful as a runaway white peahen on a Christmas tree farm. 

Don’t get me wrong: Logic has its place. Empirical research, construction, business plans, and politics come to mind as areas where I appreciate a hefty dose of logic. But a life lived solely along the lines of logic strikes me as unutterably dull. Logic is the opposite of magic, of miracle. And I prefer life to be long on the miracle and the magic.

Like homeschooling my children.

Like a white peacock roosting next door. 

Like my daughters and their friends dancing unashamed around our fire pit to music that’s only in their heads.

Like the days-old fawn that our neighbor discovered while haying our field, and left in the safety of a triangle of long grass until its mother came to lead it away. (Yes, this was the same neighbor who’s acquired a peacock; magic and miracle loom large in his life, it appears.)

Like standing in the bed of our pickup truck with my husband and oldest daughter to view the red glow of Mars, which is closer to Earth this summer than it’s been in 15 years. 

Like the dozens of swallowtail butterflies filling the air around Lake Dunmore in early July as they laid their eggs on the beach. 

Like the two weeks in June when thousands of poplar seeds dance on little white tufts borne by the wind, so that it looks like fairies are descending over the entire world.

Like the duck whom we gave up for dead after she’d disappeared into the brush for the better part of an afternoon, but who returned at sundown, marching stolidly up to the duckyard fence like some prodigal poultry. 

Like all the rainbows that arch over our field, and every seed that sprouts in my garden. 

Why?

Why not?

This is just a random sampling from my own summer, a list of the unremarkable, everyday miracles that penetrate all of our lives if we pay attention. There is plenty of pain, terror, and ugliness in life if we pay attention, too. So another question might be: Which song will we choose to play at the loudest volume?

For today, at least, I’m cranking up the volume on magic and miracle. Why not? 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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