God Bless Elvis

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

One of my favorite songs from childhood was Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” – I just loved the funky beat, and the ‘o o o o so lonely’ deep crooning of the Man. Back then I didn’t pay much mind to the lyrics which, however, I later taught to my ESOL students who always got a good laugh of out of them.

“Well, since my baby left me
Well, I found a new place to dwell
Well, it’s down at the end of Lonely Street
At Heartbreak Hotel”

A bit humorously (and quite sincerely,) one of my students once asked, “teacher, where is Lonely Street?” Now I’m willing to bet that each and everyone of you has at least once rented a room somewhere on Lonely Street J Heck, I personally still have my key!

It’s awfully easy to get comfortable in our every day lives, get into our routine, deal with minor annoyances like dogs tipping over trash cans, losing car keys, horses playing soccer with their water troughs, and forget that there is a road out there called Lonely Street. But the truth is, that on any given day, in any given town, someone’s heart is breaking.

It’s my belief that those of us who work with animals have seen just a bit more heartbreak than your average human-only households, simply by virtue of the shorter life spans of the creatures we care for. Oh, and heartbreak does not have to be romantic – in case y’all were wonderin’.

Emotional pain is felt keenly by animals – if you only care to look. I think we would all do well to look. When Chris’ (Polish chicken) girlfriend Laila went missing, he refused to come into the barn for 3 nights – he perched outside watching and waiting. And he was not himself for weeks afterwards. The night I found my very first duck Betty in the pasture, decapitated by some predator, her mate George was standing up by the barn, staring right into the wall, not moving. He was virtually comatose and I couldn’t get him to eat for days. Similarly, when Andy the rabbit lost his mate Star, he stopped eating and in fact had to be hospitalized for three days.

So I watch my animals for any aberration of behavior or stance. Yesterday I found my biggest and oldest rooster Orion sitting in an odd place on the floor in the chicken barn. (Orion has a complicated genealogy, just BTW: son of Rhode Island Red Jim Bob (who came from the rougher arts of Takoma Park), now deceased, and one of the Araucana sisters, but hatched out inside the house by Chirpy, a miniature bantam, who was desperate to raise a chick. He is extraordinarily beautiful and a powerful, large bird). I then saw one of the Charlie chickens (couldn’t tell you if it was Charlie Sam or Charlie Smith or Charlie Jones or one of the others – but definitely from the lean, mean Charlie clan) jump on top of him, pecking and harassing while Orion could only sit there and duck his head. That’s a very nasty thing that chickens do. When one chicken feels poorly, the others take a sort of vengeful pleasure in beating him up – sometimes to the death (and yes, I’ve had to be undertaker more than once). I think this “kicking ‘em when they’re down” is a human thing too, though I prefer to believe it manifests itself only amongst the less evolved among us; those who are weak or insecure get a perverse pleasure out of picking on the stronger ones, once a weakness is perceived. Thoroughly distasteful.

But back to poor old Orion: I brought him inside the house, and found that he had a bad swelling and bruising on one of his large feet, so I spent some time soaking it, and then bathing it with salve and bandaging it up. He’s hopping around in a restricted area, getting his very own personal ration of food, and looks to be feeling better. Now coincidentally, my heart was looking about the same as our dear Orion’s foot – raw, swollen, and kinda black and blue. It’s often happened to me that I experience physical symptoms of my sick animals, though I confess this was the first time it hit me in the solar plexus. But I thank our dear rooster, because the act of my gently cleaning off and caring for his sore, swollen, beat-up foot seemed to transfer a salve to my own inner gloom.

And I once again marvel at the magic of animals: their dignity, beauty, and absolute honesty both in their demands and in their thankfulness when their demands are satisfied. With all the words and logic, systems and machinery, industry and technology and legalistic arguments for every problem on earth, humans have, in fact, figured very little out that is of much importance.

“Oh, although it’s always crowded
You still can find some room
At Star Gazing Farm in Boyds
To cry away your gloom”

Till next time,

Farmer Anne

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