by Laura Parker Roerden
The phrase “and mayhem ensued” turns out to have real application when you have animals. Recently, in a fit of cleanliness, I asked our handyman Keith to help spring clean the barn. He tidied up in general, but because he’s no slouch, he decided to surprise me by washing the historic windows that line the south facing wall. Those window had not been cleaned in twenty years.
The effect was startlingly beautiful, like looking at the freshest spring pool and being surprised to see an azure sky animated with clouds. But as I stood admiring them, I heard the “Flluh flluh flluh” of a large winged bird taking flight behind me. It was one of the juvenile peacocks heading straight for the windows. The scene slowed in a visual time lapse, the geometric effect of the bird against the pane of the windows like that of an origami bird folding in a flash of iridescence. The peacock rocketed straight through the glass and banked right towards a tree in the back of the barn. His flock mates looked as stunned as I was. Shards of glass were strewn all over the paddock where our Leicester Longwools were happily grazing. The peacock was now perched fifty feet up on the very top of an oak tree.
Peacocks are able flyers, so trying to catch one is futile. It’s all awkward flirtation like a scene that plays out in a bar. I stood beneath the tree trying to make “Caw, caw, caw” sounds, while I tapped the side of the metal food scoop filled with his favorite food. He ignored me. I opened the door where his flock mates were, standing guard so the cows on the other side didn’t enter the peacock barn and no other peafowls became flight risks. I put down a line of food from the tree to the door. I went back to singing “Caw, caw, caw.” The peacock wouldn’t give me the dignity of looking down.
I went back to the farmhouse, leaving a door to the barn open with a stash of grain and water inside. Dusk was approaching. I was fairly confident the bird would come back to roost once night fell. But I was wrong again. As darkness descended, I saw the bird had taken perch in the highest point on the property, the peak of the barn, as if he were some weathervane.
Again, I grabbed the metal scoop and hit it, singing “Caw, caw, caw.” Some people never learn.
As I was looking up at the barn roof, a police cruiser came by and stopped.
“What are you looking at?” the officer asked from the car. ‘
“A peacock,” I answered, rolling my eyes. “Please don’t make me explain this,” I thought to myself.
“Is it supposed to be there?” he asked.
“Yes. It’s ours,” I explained. “He got out. He’s not supposed to be up there, though.”
“Do you want any help?” the policeman asked.
“What did you have in mind?” I said, taking the bait.
“Well, I’m a good shot,” he sneered. Clearly, he was joking, but I was not laughing.
“Thanks, anyway, officer.” It wasn’t exactly a Make Way for Ducklings encounter, but I had to admit I felt some satisfaction imagining my friend Laura Laverdiere later having the incident report brighten her night shift as dispatcher.
It was now dark and barely 40 degrees. The peacock had hunkered down for the night, fluffing its feathers against the wind. I went inside.
All night long, I checked from the second floor bathroom window. Though it was a full moon and an eclipse, the cloud cover made it impossible to see but the faint outline of a shadow perched on the barn roof. The peacock was still there.
At dawn, my husband texted me, “Still on the roof,” as he left for work. By 7:00 a.m. the peacock was gone, nowhere to be found. I walked the property, but didn’t see him. I left the door to the barn open again with some grain. But in fact, it looked like none of what I had left before had been disturbed. I was batting exactly zero.
“Well, maybe he’ll be like some interesting mascot that people all over the Valley will come to see: the peacock that perches on the gable ridge of the barn on the hill, it’s massive majestic tail cascading down the roof. It would be like the scene at the end of ‘Field of Dreams,’ with lines of cars snaking down the street,” I thought to myself as I officially gave up. Farming is all improvisation, no matter how much you plan. There’s always some ghost popping out of a cornfield wanting to play baseball.
Later in the day, I casually glanced out the window and saw the peacock roaming beside a chicken on our lawn. This was my chance. He was on the ground. But my only hope was to lure him inside and corner him. So I grabbed some wild bird seed from our mudroom and put a little on the porch in a line leading inside, leaving our front door wide open. “This will never work,” I thought.
A couple of hours later, I checked our mudroom. The peacock and the hen had both come inside to eat the birdseed. I had him! I ran around the other side of the house to close the front door. He was caught in our mudroom (with the hen). Now things got serious. I needed a kid to help me.
Even at 9 months old, peacocks are large and have talons that could injure. Our mudroom is small and if he was scared and flying wildly, it could be dangerous. So I asked 11-year old Zach to help me. We gathered our tools: a blanket, two pairs of sunglasses, and two pairs of gloves. Zach would be backup.
We both put on the sunglasses and gloves. We looked like we were about to commit a crime. Zach trailed behind me with the blanket, like an overgrown Linus. The blanket was in case the peacock panicked. We would then catch him with the blanket, putting a layer of protection between us and him, and giving him the gift of blindness.
But the only one who panicked was the hen, who flew awkwardly around the mudroom, breaking a mason jar, while the peacock allowed me to calmly pick him up and clutch him to my chest. There were shards of broken glass to clean up. But that could wait. The peacock was back with his flock mates in time for dinner, with his own wild story of a boy, a blanket, a view of the valley, and a crazy lady with sunglasses banging a metal scoop and singing.
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