Faith Gong: A tale of two roosters

Fall has arrived suddenly and dramatically in Vermont, with plunging temperatures and nighttime frosts. This shouldn’t have surprised, me, as this has hardly been a year of subtlety; nothing seems to have happened “just a little” in 2020. 

But whether we tumble into it headlong or ease into it gradually, fall is always a season of change. This change is evident in the weather and the leaves, but also in our lifestyles. Children are heading back to school, which this year is a bigger change than usual for most families as they adjust to remote learning or virtual/in-person hybrid arrangements. In my family, fall marks the start of field hockey season — the one athletic activity that has ever gripped my bookish, artsy brood — so four afternoons a week I am shuttling (masked) girls to practices with the town’s youth program or at the middle school. And fall means that our local apple orchard is open again, which adds a weekly errand to pick up fresh apples, cider, and cider doughnuts. 

There’s another change at my house this fall: We’ve got a new rooster. 

We like having roosters in our poultry mix; not only do they make it possible for us to hatch homegrown chicks from time to time, but they also provide supervision and protection for the hens. Roosters get a bad rap for being aggressive, but we’ve never had an issue yet. At our peak we had three roosters in our coop, representing three generations. Interestingly, you could see the thinning of the gene pool with each successive rooster: Grandpa was loud and proud, with stunning tailfeathers, but Pop and Junior were each a bit smaller and meeker.

Then, in a series of predator attacks by a hawk and a couple of foxes, we lost both Grandpa and Pop this year, leaving Junior as the only male in a sea of hens. And Junior, nicknamed “Mini Rooster” by my daughters, was a pitiful specimen. As a bantam rooster, he was smaller than most of the hens in the coop; he had no authority whatsoever, but scuttled around with the few bantam hens who tolerated his presence. And the strange thing was, he didn’t seem to be able to crow. While his father and grandfather had traded crows like they were contestants on American Idol, the most we got from Mini Rooster was an occasional, strangled gargle.

So, when our friends announced on Front Porch Forum that they were giving away a free rooster, we jumped at the chance to adopt him into our flock. (It’s the first time I’ve ever made a successful offer on Front Porch Forum, but I suspect we didn’t have much competition.) 

My husband and three younger daughters went to pick up the rooster the other night, and as they walked back into the house after settling him in our coop, they gave this report:

“He’s really big!”

“He’s HUGE!”

“I think he’s part turkey!”

I got a look at the new rooster the next morning (the girls decided to name him “Darkstalker”) and my first thought was: Now THAT’S a proper rooster! He is large, and as he’s only four months old he’s likely to get even larger. He’s a Barred Rock with striped black-and-white feathers, and he was strutting majestically among the hens, dwarfing them all. 

A few minutes later, while I was feeding the baby, I heard it: A crow, echoing clearly through the crisp morning air.

Then another crow, and another.

It was becoming clear why our friends, who live in a neighborhood, were anxious to find a new home for this rooster. 

The crows continued at regular intervals and seemed to be coming from underneath our kitchen window. When I’d finished feeding the baby, I walked over to the window to investigate. And I saw the last thing I’d expected: Those crows weren’t coming from our new rooster at all, they were issuing forth from the throat of Mini Rooster!

The only explanation I have for how Mini Rooster went from timid gargles to full-throated cock-a-doodle-dos is this: He needed another rooster around in order to remind him of who he was and what he was supposed to do.

I couldn’t have manufactured a better metaphor for what I think we’re all learning during this strange, isolated season of social distancing and stay-at-home orders: We need one another. 

This is not a new or original thought, but something I’ve heard repeated for months now. Sometimes it’s expressed as a lament for what we’re losing in this moment, but often it’s voiced as a hope for what may be regained. 

Personally, I had very little difficulty with isolation during the early months of the pandemic. Granted, even in “isolation” there are still six other people around me at all times, but I found that my introverted self thrives when given permission to bow out of social requirements in order to stay home and read, write, walk, and cook. Such was life for most of March, April, and May.

By June, my introverted paradise had started to curdle. I found myself dreaming about opening up our house to other people again. I missed hosting dinners for friends and new acquaintances. I missed having children running wild on playdates. I longed to hug friends. And I saw my children begin to wilt as they, too, craved social contact. 

Much of this has improved as COVID-19 numbers in Vermont have remained low; our family is now interacting with a small number of friends outdoors. And I’ve been reminded that my children, who will go on family hikes only while whining and complaining, will clamber over trails like mountain goats when accompanied by friends — another example of how we need each other. 

But there is a way to go before life returns to “normal.” Our family is still not comfortable with indoor events, and as the weather continues to get colder our outdoor interactions will likely taper down. This is hard to contemplate, given my newfound clarity on how much we need others. But even as the virus and the weather may force us to turn inward, we can still dream outward; in fact, this time is a good opportunity for contemplating creative ways for gathering community, both now and in the future. Me, I’m envisioning gathering a group of women together to share about where we find truth and beauty. How about you? 

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

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