Charlie's Good Year
Copyright 2022 by Valerie Forde-Galvin
Drawing of Charlie by
say that relationships hold up the mirror and teach you something
about yourself. Well, Charlie did this and more. Charlie possessed
courage, style, and joie de vivre. Sufficient unto himself, Charlie
had chutzpah. And Charlie passed it on. Yes, Charlie came into my
life to remind me of who I am and who I could become.
was sunrise when Charlie announced his presence. Sometime around five
o'clock one morning in May I first heard his voice. His was a
jubilant greeting to a sun revived out of darkness. With some
assistance from awakening sparrows and finches, he called the day
into being. His crowing continued at fifteen minute intervals until
my sleep dulled senses concluded that there was a rooster somewhere
outside my window.
had only been a few months since I moved out into the country,
trading in a twenty-six year marriage for safety and well-being. I'd
pretty much adapted to life in this rural community where the sounds
of animals and farm machinery provided a charming pastoral
background. However, calculating sound distance, I realized that this
commotion was not issuing from the neighboring farm half a mile down
the road. Charlie's squawking echoed through the dry old bones of the
barn attached to my rented farmhouse and, well before the sun emerged
from its slumbers, I was fully awake.
waited until full daylight before greeting my newly arrived guest.
Fortified with a proper breakfast and dressed in my barn clothes, I
ventured out to investigate. I wasn't prepared for what I saw;
Charlie's appearance did not match the grandeur of his voice. Lame
and bald, featherless from his comb to his cape (that's mid-back in
rooster anatomy), he was a pitiful sight.
recalled my former attempts at poultry farming and realized that
Charlie showed evidence of natural selection. In a flock, the older
and weaker birds are often attacked by stronger, healthier members,
hence the term “pecking order.” If a rooster can't defend
himself, he no longer has a place in the flock and is eventually
pecked to death. Charlie's sparse plumage indicated that he was
definitely past his prime and had become a target for the young and
Charlie apparently possessed a higher intelligence than your average
fowl. For self-preservation he had walked away from his dysfunctional
family and taken to the road. Now, if you've ever seen a chicken
walk, you can understand that his journey toward freedom could not
have been easy. In chicken metrics, that half mile from the
neighboring farm must have seemed to Charlie like half a marathon.
Yet he persevered.
recently removed myself from an abusive marriage, I could relate.
Walking away was my only option too. My flight to
some courage but, compared to Charlie's ordeal, I went first class.
I empathized with this fellow seeker, it took me a while to fully
grasp Charlie's intentions. I first assumed that, in his senility,
this rooster had just strayed too far from home and was using my barn
for shelter until he could get his bearings and eventually find his
way back to his farm. However, the days passed and he stayed on. I
recognized that, like me, Charlie was in survival mode. For both of
us there was no going back.
I scrabbled for subsistence in my brave new world, so did my newly
acquired rooster friend. I was just barely managing, eking out a
precarious living as a yoga teacher and therapist. And now here was
Charlie, managing as best he could with whatever his new surroundings
offered. He nibbled at weeds in my garden and occasionally pecked out
a worm or two. But he was still hungry and followed me around,
waiting for me to get the picture. Back at his former home, humans
would have supplied him with grain and he expected me to do the same.
In time I began to understand that Charlie had moved in for good and
had appointed me as his caretaker. I experimented with sprinkling
various grains out on the driveway for him. As a vegetarian, I had an
assortment of bulgur, oats, and barley to share. Charlie ravenously
scarfed up my offerings.
was good to see Charlie happily strutting and pecking his way around
the yard but, at the same time, I realized that he was depleting my
own food supply. I couldn't keep up with this rooster's ravenous
appetite. It was time to get serious about Charlie's nutritional
needs. So off I went to the local feed store to ask what sort of fare
would please an old rooster. No spring chicken myself, I had to
assure the clerk that I was indeed speaking about an old bird and not
an aging husband with a fiber deficiency.
the months that followed I became a regular customer at the feed
store, hauling home my twenty-five pound sacks of grain. I had become
a chicken farmer. And I began to see results in my flock of one.
Charlie's condition was gradually improving. Instinctively he
supplemented his diet of grains with slimy tidbits scratched from the
yard. As I watched him grazing in my flower garden, feasting on
insects and worms, I chose to believe that he was helping to keep my
garden free of pests and so gladly sacrificed the occasional plant to
transformation was amazing. His feathers grew back. His scrawny
little chicken body filled out. By midsummer Charlie had reclaimed
his former rooster majesty. He walked now with confidence like a
proper king of the barnyard, his iridescent black head held high.
not strutting through the yard, he enjoyed basking right in the
middle of my flower bed. His lustrous feathers glistened like onyx
gems in the sunlight and, touched by his radiance, the
yellow primrose became a field of gold. This vision of Charlie
delighted my students who came to the house for yoga. And Charlie's
frequent vocalizations provided an amusing distraction during
classes. Charlie was a happy rooster. He sang out day and night.
fall, as cold weather approached, I felt obliged to make Charlie a
warm roosting place in the barn. My carpentry skills and my resources
were limited so I did the best I could. I cut up an old refrigerator
box and lined it with hay. Then I made some attempts to guide Charlie
into his winter home. But each time I pushed him toward the cardboard
box, that stubborn old bird just stood his ground. There's a
stubbornness I could understand, a characteristic I shared with
Charlie. Past traumas had made us both wary. Nobody puts us in
rooster wisdom prevailed. His native intelligence took over and,
ignoring my handiwork, Charlie moved himself into a stack of old
tires in a dry corner of the barn. Here, as the days grew cold, he
hunkered down, insulated and warm and safe.
took hold of the landscape. The hours of daylight dwindled; harsh
cold set in. I worried about how my feathered friend could keep
himself warm. And would he get enough nourishment without those worms
that supplemented his diet? He was a free range chicken and his range
was now limited. Would he find sustenance during winter in his new
too was seeking nourishment. The divorce had left me depleted. I had
come to a point in my life where I knew that I must learn to nurture
my body, mind, and spirit. My yoga practice gave me the tools; I just
had to apply them.
first snowfall happened early in December, blanketing the fields and
dusting the pine tree branches. Charlie's favorite outside scratching
places became covered with snow and I had to scatter his daily ration
of grain inside the barn for him. There, sheltered from cold winds,
he seemed happy enough to scratch around on the barn floor for his
Charlie would venture outside, making little chicken tracks in the
driveway. Some of my yoga students observed this landscape artwork
and, without realizing that it was created by a rooster, thanked me
for the lovely gesture. They thought I was drawing peace signs in the
snow! Bless them, it's understandable. We were all survivors of the
were times when Charlie did not come down from his lair at all,
preferring to nest up there in his cozy bed of tires. In that way he
taught me to go with the flow. The earth in winter slumbers beneath
its blanket of snow. Its short days provide little light; too often
the meager sun refuses to appear. Those grayest of winter days offer
us an opportunity for contemplation. I did a lot of soul searching
that season. And I rested well during those long dark nights when
nature urges us to stay within the comforting embrace of sleep.
with enough sleep and food, we both made it through the winter.
Charlie greeted the springtime joyously. His crowing took on an even
greater exuberance. The world was alive with promise. Once more
Charlie took to following me around the yard. He was a constant
presence as I coaxed daffodils into the sunlight and harvested early
dandelion greens. We enjoyed each other's company, this proud black
rooster and I.
had come around again. Throughout the surrounding woods and fields
there were many creatures awakening to springtime, creatures big and
small. They were hungry and on the prowl.
happened during the night. Perhaps it was that pack of coyotes whose
yelping could be heard off in the distance as the crescent moon rose
from the treetops. I do not know for sure what got him. On the first
anniversary of his arrival I awoke to find evidence of a struggle:
shiny black feathers scattered over the greening lawn. It appeared
that Charlie had fought valiantly against the predators but
ultimately lost the battle for his life.
is the way of nature, after all. Charlie's life was given up in order
that coyotes and scavenging crows would survive another season.
did not spend much time mourning him. I knew that Charlie had already
accomplished more than your ordinary chicken in one short lifetime.
By leaving the farm, he had refused to be the victim of his
circumstances. Charlie had taken responsibility for his own
rehabilitation. In poultry anthropology, this might even be
considered an evolutionary leap.
felt blessed to have known this remarkable creature who, through
sheer strength of spirit, changed his life situation. In that
respect, Charlie and I were kindred spirits, following our instincts.
Charlie's decision to set off on his own paid off, as did mine.
During his year long residency with me, Charlie had reclaimed vibrant
health and happiness while teaching me to enjoy each moment in the
sun and each good thing that life has to offer. Yes, Charlie and I
had ourselves one good year.
Forde-Galvin is a body/mind therapist originally from New England. For
years she has led classes and retreats in meditation, Yoga, and Qi
traces her ancestry back to the Irish diaspora of the nineteenth
century. A love of words comes with the heritage. Compelled to write
by her Irish genes, Valerie has been published in The Poeming
Pigeon, AROHO, and Toho Journal.
Now retired, she lives on a horse farm in Virginia and grows
vegetables that are shared with deer and rabbits.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Another story by Valerie
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