Friday, March 21, 2014

Brewster the Rooster

Years ago, my good friend Wes and I became charter members of a small fly fishing club. There was quite a cross section of people among the membership and I got to know them all. There were professional people, doctors, bankers and such, along with shop keepers, farmers and builders. A few father and son teams strengthened their bonds by joining the club, spending time with each other, and there were others. We were known as the Kaweah Flyfishers and the club was affiliated with the Federation of Fly Fishermen. Several accomplished fishermen and fly tiers were counted among the membership and our club meetings usually featured guest speakers that discussed everything from the obvious fishing and tackle subjects to such things as stream conservation. There were fly tying seminars and the occasional film on fishing throughout the west. I learned a lot.

In the club’s second year we planned to hold an auction as a fundraiser. All the members were encouraged to seek donations of fishing and outdoors items from among the various community businesses where we lived or, if nothing else, we could donate our own gear that might be expendable, all for the good of the club.

It just so happened that the event’s planning coincided with the death of one of my dad’s good friends who was a lifelong fly fisher. He owned the local sporting goods store in my hometown when I was a boy and I’d known this man all my life. For years, he had been one of my dad’s fishing buddies. As far back as I could remember they and two other friends would take an annual two-week trip driving up to Northern California’s famed Steelhead rivers. They fly fished using stout tackle, testing their skills against those big silvery ocean going fighters. There were times when dad would take me with him after he got off work on hot late summer afternoons and we would go down to the sports shop so dad and his friend could plan for their next autumn fishing excursion. The shop was a wonderland to me. I’d go through aisle after aisle trying on baseball gloves and swinging the various bats. There were footballs and helmets and I could check out the basketballs or whatever else caught my eye while they talked and laughed sitting behind the sales counter.

After he passed away, the deceased man’s widow invited her husband’s old fishing buddies to stop by her home and go through the man’s vast fly tying supplies and take what they wanted, saying that it was her husband’s wish. Dad had taught me to fly fish and how to tie flies and knew I was very interested in the sport so he invited me to go with him to his friend’s house. I agreed to go along and can still recall the sad look on the old woman’s face as she invited us in and escorted us to the back of her small wood frame home where her husband’s fly tying room was located. When she opened the door, I was hit with the strong aroma of moth balls mixed with years of pipe smoke. His tying vise was still clamped on the small bench and one of those swing-arm, circular lights with a magnifying lens built in was positioned over the vise so the man could easily see his work. Every wall had several shelves attached and each had an array of Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco tins and old cigar boxes on them. They were each marked in black with what the contents were. The tins and boxes were filled with all kinds of feathers, furs, yarns, tying string, hooks and more. Knowing the value of what I was looking at, I almost felt embarrassed as dad and I were urged by the woman to rummage through things and take whatever we wanted. We took a few samples of the things we used to tie our favorite flies and thanked the lady. Driving away, both of us were quiet and I knew dad had been engulfed by the closeness of his own mortality.

It must have been a month later when dad called me to say that his friend’s widow wanted me to come back by and take what was left of her husband’s fly tying materials. All of his friends had come and gone and she was ready to toss out what was left if no one wanted it. She hoped I would take it. Again, I had that same embarrassed, uncomfortable feeling, but remembering the upcoming club auction, I knew that the man would be pleased that his fly tying materials would go to a good cause he certainly would have supported. I ended up loading a couple of large boxes filled with tobacco tins and smaller containers, each with various materials, into my pickup. I thanked the woman and was sure to tell her what the materials would be used for. She was happy they wouldn’t go to waste.

The evening of the auction came and as was our course, Wes and I traveled together. After entering what we had been able to garner as donations for the sale, we began looking over the other items that would soon be put on the block. We were both surprised to see down on the far end of one table a caged, live Dominique rooster. We both knew that the barred hackle feathers were used on several types of flies. Their use as wing material on the mosquito fly immediately came to mind. I recall both of us shaking our heads at the thought of a live rooster in the auction. If you purchased a complete Dominique hackle, it could be pretty expensive, but who would want to slaughter the full grown rooster to get it? Looking on through the other items available, we soon noticed that there were some really nice things to bid on. One member owned a fly fishing shop and had donated several new items. Another member owned a general sporting goods store and had brought in camp gear. There were specialty flies that members had tied, rod blanks, second hand reels, new fly lines and tapered leaders. It was obvious the auction was going to be a good fundraiser.

Shortly, the sale got underway and both Wes and I bid on and won a couple of needed items. The grand finale of the auction, I guess since it was the most unusual item, was the sale of the rooster. Wes looked over at me as the first bid call was made and no one was willing to offer.

“Bob, you’ve got that old chicken coop out behind your house. Why don’t you bid on the rooster?”

It was true, out behind the old farm house I rented west of town was a coop in a sad state of repair, but I had no desire to own that rooster and I sure couldn’t picture myself killing it for a few feathers. I just shook my head no while the auctioneer continued to plead for a bid. Wes couldn’t stand it.

“I’ll go halves with you. It’s for the good of the club.” He persisted.

Thinking about the club and knowing the cost wouldn’t be that steep when divided by two, I relented. Wes shot up his hand and sure enough, no one else bid. We were the proud owners of one full grown Dominique rooster.

Driving home that night with the caged bird in the back of my pickup, I was wondering what in the world possessed me to give in. Then I began thinking about what I’d have to do to get that old coop back in shape because the bird was going to have to live in it, I wouldn’t kill him.

The next day, after installing a couple of strategically placed replacement boards and wrapping a small roll of chicken wire around it, the coop was in passable shape. I guess it was a fair sized coop. It was eight foot wide, sixteen foot long and built onto the side of the equipment shed. Next, I had to go buy a big bag of chicken feed and placed some of that along with fresh water in the old galvanized metal troughs inside the coop and the rooster had a new home. At first he quietly scratched around on the dirt floor or roosted up on one of the coop’s perches. The bird seemed to be okay.

A few days later, at the crack of dawn, I was awakened from a sound sleep. What was that noise? I intently listened. There it was again and I realized it was that rooster! I hadn’t thought about that side of the equation. I got up and wandered out to the back porch. Off in the distance I caught the sound of a crowing rooster. No sooner did it quit than my rooster flapped his wings, stretched out his neck and crowed a loud response. I soon came to learn that this would be a daily early morning occurrence. I began thinking about the rooster’s co-owner not having the rare pleasure of hearing these early morning serenades…

Now I’d had dogs and cats most of my life, but never a chicken. One thing I knew though, I had to name the guy. After wondering about it for a while, the name struck me. This Dominique rooster would forever be known as Brewster. Brewster the Rooster!

It was a couple of months into our new found relationship when a farmer friend of mine who had years of experience with chickens told me I could probably leave the coop door open. The rooster had had enough time to become accustomed to his surroundings. He wouldn’t stray too far from his food and water and would find his way back to the coop to roost at night. I figured “what the heck”. It was a warm spring evening when I went out to check Brewster’s food and water situation. When done, I left the coop door wide open and sat a few feet away, resting on top of the picnic table, watching to see what he’d do. Brewster came down from his perch and cautiously stuck his head out the door, cocking it first one way and then the other. After a brief inspection, he must of felt safe as he picked his way out onto the lawn. I watched with interest as he worked his way around checking everything out. Just about dark he went back into the coop and got back up on his usual perch.

It wasn’t long before Brewster became master of the yard. Just as my friend had predicted, he stayed close to home. Summer came on, and I got in the habit of taking my dinner to the picnic table out back to eat where I could spend time watching Brewster. He got so used to me being out there that he’d hop up on the table just to see what was on the menu. I supposed that he must be pretty lonely as it got to where he’d even let me pet him. I know it sounds crazy, but I began to grow attached to that big black and white rooster.

Pulling in one day after work I was surprised to find barred feathers blowing across the dirt yard south of the house where I parked my rigs. Filled with dread, I came to a stop, jumped out and scanned the area. In the middle of the back lawn there was a dog that I’d never seen before. It was lying down and had Brewster pinned under its forelegs, mouthing him. My heart sunk at the sight of it. I was sure Brewster had been killed and all I could think was to kill that dog for what it had done. Remembering the 22 caliber rifle I kept just inside the back door, I slowly walked onto the back porch and unlocked the door. The dog didn’t run it just kept an eye on me while continuing to mouth what I figured was left of Brewster. I reached in, grabbed the rifle and cocked it, chambering a round. Stepping back out into the yard, I suddenly realized that the dog must have been shot at before because it jumped up and took off running with its tail tucked. I got off two shots before the dog was out of sight, missing with both. I was mad as hell and cursing my luck as I started to give chase when all of a sudden, Brewster, hardly a feather left on him, got up and sprinted right past me, disappearing around the corner of the house. I was still hot about the dog and ran after it, but it was too late. I ended up searching the rest of the evening for Brewster. He wasn’t in the yard so I crossed the road into the neighboring orange grove, looking everywhere. I couldn’t find him. I felt so downhearted and it was all over a rooster!

The next morning I woke early and listened for the then familiar crowing, but all was quiet. For the next few afternoons I’d come home from work and continue my search, but it was futile. I finally became resolved to the fact that the bird had probably died. Another dog, a fox, a coyote or any of a number of other critters that lived around the area must have gotten him.

It was about a week later when I was home at night watching television that I heard a strange noise. I didn’t pay too much attention the first time I heard it thinking the noise must have been made by the old house creaking as it cooled down from another hot summer day. Then I heard it again. My curiosity was up so I flipped on the front porch light and stepped outside. Everything appeared to be normal out front so I walked around to the south side of the house where my two rigs were parked. That’s when I clearly heard it. It was like a muffled squawk, something like the sound a bird might make. Filled with anticipation, I headed down the side of the house and there the squawk was again, only louder. Looking down at the side of the house I noticed the board that covered the man hole in the side of the brick foundation had fallen down. The crawl space below the house was open and the sound was coming from down there. I went and got my flashlight and peered under the house. Brewster stood back a ways, naked without his plumage and showing several red puncher wounds on his hide. I called to him, happy to find he was still among the living, but he stayed back. Seeing him without his feathers made me think he sure looked skinny. I went out to the coop, filled up his food and water troughs and took them to the crawl space opening, shoving them back a ways inside. The poor bird limped over and began feeding. He must have been under the house without food for well over a week. Everyday I kept his feed and water topped off, but Brewster refused to come out. He wouldn’t even come up to me. He’d been traumatized. I fed and watered him under the house the rest of the summer.

Home from work one day as autumn came on I found Brewster back on his perch in the old coop. His plumage, although not quite as grand as it had once been, was practically back to normal. He hadn’t come out, evidently too ashamed to be seen naked, until he was once again well dressed… He was still skittish, but eventually he allowed me to once again pet him.

I now knew that it was dangerous for him where I lived since I was rarely around to protect him. I decided the best thing I could do would be to find Brewster a new home. I looked for someone who had other chickens, but not just any chickens; they had to be free range, like I’d allowed Brewster to become. I worked as a field inspector for an agricultural supply company in those days so I was able to visit with a lot of farmers. Asking around, I soon found a suitable home for Brewster. He’d been through a lot and he deserved it.

It was a happy occasion the day I took him to his new home, setting him free and watching him mingle with his own kind. He would live out his life with a bunch of Rhode Island Reds. I hoped he wouldn’t mind too much being with those red chickens and he didn’t seem to be fazed by it. I’m sure he hadn’t heard what they say about redheads. I just hope he didn’t end up a poor old hen pecked rooster!

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