Can They Smell Fear?

Tonight’s post is a culmination of many events, many fears, many realities…I actually don’t even know where to begin… As you may recall, we have a history with notable Roosters here on the Acre. This story doesn’t stray far from history or from the truth, it does not exaggerate, it has not been created for comic relief. This story is genuine, factual, bona fide, for realzies (not for fakesies), actual shit that has happened…to me. Let me preface this account with a simple fact: I am not scared of animals. Ok, I (might) have a history of being scared of bugs. Large bugs. The kinds that pose a threat to humans…or maybe not. They certainly look like they could pose a threat. The point is….that this IS NOT the point of my story, it doesn’t even (really) have anything to do with ‘bugs,’ mostly it has to do with roosters. Big, scary, mean roosters. The kind that make you question your position in the food chain. The kind that make you question….yourself.

I certainly did not grow up with a fear of animals. In fact, I don’t recall growing up with fear of any kind. I started riding horses at the age of 4 yrs old. I also started falling off of horses at the age of 4 yrs old. When I slowly graduated to a life of showing horses in the world of Three-Day Eventing, my mom was the only one who really ever grew uncomfortable with the thought of me coming off of a horse. In fact, I did it so many times, that I grew accustomed to the prospect of falling. And even though I developed a technique to reduce my chance of injury, my mom still insisted on standing next to the ambulance on the show grounds….not because she was afraid I would end up there, but because she wanted an oxygen mask immediately available to her if she heard the familiar phrase of, “Jennifer and Bear have ‘parted ways,'” over the PA system. By the age of twelve, I was used to the routine; falling, shaking it off, getting back on, finishing the course. I had conquered fear, I had downright mastered it.

My exposure to animals was not limited to horses. In the 3rd or 4th grade, I found several dead animals over the span of a few months, I encased them in different ‘mediums’; a sandwich baggie, a plastic box, an old sock and, lastly, nothing at all. I then buried them deep into the earth. Weeks later, I dug them up to see how each one had decomposed, then I cut them open to investigate their insides. I was never scared, never disgusted. Later, in high school, I took an internship at a Vet Office which led to a job as a Vet Tech/Surgery Tech. I saw animals at every stage of life, handled them into stages well beyond. I remember one particular day in surgery, I was assisting with a leg amputation on a dog. As I was holding the foot of the leg that was being removed, a friend of mine walked in to relay a message to me. As my friend was talking, the Vet sawed through the last of the bone in the leg and (caught off-guard by the sudden release in tension) the newly cleaned leg flung from my hand, across the room, slapping the wall mere inches from my friend’s face…. She then proceeded to turn green while I proceeded to laugh my ass off after, of course, apologizing to the Vet for my ineptitude.

So I guess you could say that my comfort level with animals (ranging from birth through amputation through death) would simply add to my skills as a ‘farmer.’ And you would be correct…to a certain point. I am reminded of when our friend Jonny Bee brought over our first bee-hive to the original Acre. He had agreed to drop off the hive, tend to the bees every step of the way, and pay us in honey for the ‘space’ they required on our small homestead. Meanwhile, they would help pollinate our orchard, berries, and garden, and (hopefully) stay the fuck away from me, as I was slightly afraid of bees. Lets just say, all did not go as planned. The bees did their job and whatnot, but my fear was merely accentuated when Jonny Bee handed me a bee-suit upon the hive’s arrival and told me to suit up. It soon became apparent that we were going in. I reluctantly put on the suit, I cautiously followed Jonny Bee closer to the hive, then stopped about five feet short of the incessant buzzing, firmly grabbed his arm, and whispered: “Ummm, Jon, can bees smell fear?” Long story short, the old hive never made it to the new Acre. After a series of me running wildly through the yard, screaming like an idiot, while batting at the sides of my head, then somewhat hysterically trying to convince the kids that there was nothing to be afraid of while frantically looking about to make sure I was no longer being stalked….we realized that, yeah, it wasn’t what we would call ‘the best situation.’

There appears to be a pretty firm parallel between those bees and our current rooster. As you may recall, our last rooster was somewhat of a ham, a pretty boy who lead a meaningless existence and was met with a meaningless death. Super, our current rooster, is the exact opposite. He came to us with six-inch spurs and the sole purpose of protecting his small flock of hens…..and attacking small unsuspecting children. Once I caught on to his game, I started asserting myself as the individual in charge – to which he fully and wholeheartedly responded for about three whole seconds. Then it began. First it was a hazing here and there when I walked between the front door of the house and the truck. It rapidly progressed to a full defense of the chicken’s food and water area…even if I was simply trying to provide them with food and water. Then one day, ‘the straw that broke the camels back’ as it were, I awoke at 4am to go into a particularly early baking shift at work. I opened the front door on my way out while simultaneously turning on the porch light and was met with the rooster; perched on the doorstep, eyeing me, then attacking. I silently jumped fifteen feet in the air, not wanting to wake the children at such an early hour. I left through the other door, walking all the way around the house, ninja-style, ready for anything….

Things went from bad to worse. I started propping sticks by the front door. At one point I actually carried the children’s soccer goal frame (with attached net) to throw at Super in the event of an attack – and I ended up launching it at him on more than one occasion. One day, when I went out to feed the flock, Super chased me around the driveway three times before I just threw the feed into the air and ran for cover. I immediately complained to Brian that I was being taken advantage of, that Super was toying with me, and I was NOT enjoying it. Brian, however, was COMPLETELY enjoying it, making sure to comment that Super NEVER chased him around the yard.

Tonight, the situation came to a head. I was on my way to the garden to do some work and as I stepped out of the front door, Super crossed my path. I decided to play it cool and walk casually past him….casually, that is, until I noticed him, noticing me, noticing him…and then all hell breaks loose. He charges. I run. I look back to see him gaining on me, I run faster. I look back again, still there….instincts kick in: I am no longer the predator. I am the prey. My brain pumps out the adrenaline, tells my legs to open it up to full capacity. Screaming now, I look back one more time, I see the rooster closing in….then suddenly: toe. rock. face. ground. I eat major shit. mother. fucker. I stumble back to the house, sore ankle, bruised ego. I gather my wits, a large pointy stick, and a glass of wine. I cautiously make my way back out to the garden.

I finish up my chores for the night just as dinner time approaches and I realize that I’m going to have to run the gauntlet to get back into the house. Watching the sun work its way towards the mountains, I start to reconsider my relationship with this particular animal. He is, after all, only doing his job, protecting his flock…albeit rather zealously. The relationship I have with Super has only reinforced this notion that I’ve always had with animals, the very notion that has led me to respect them rather than to fear them: animals are wild creatures. Even domesticated animals are unpredictable spirits who, at the very basis of their beings, will react with instinct over trained responses. It invokes a sort of ‘namaste’ in me, but of a different nature: ‘The untamed in me recognizes the untamed in you.’ Even if the ‘untamed’ in me is telling me to stay on top of the picnic table until the ‘untamed’ rooster gets distracted by my husband calling out the front door that dinner is ready…..then, and only then, will I make a run for it….

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