Sunday, May 20, 2012

On Books and Authors and Very Fine Chicken Behavior

This morning I finished listening to Rhino Ranch by Larry McMurtry on CD, narrated by Will Patton, my current favorite book narrator.
I stood over the stove with my spatula in my hand and when Duane passed away, I said, "Aw," very gently and turned the pancakes and then took the headphones out of my ears.

Duane Moore is the protagonist (why does word make me feel like I am writing a book report?) of five books by McMurtry. They begin with The Last Picture Show, go on to Texasville, then Duane's Depressed, then When the Light Goes, and finally, Rhino Ranch.
I have loved them all.
I've read Duane's Depressed probably five times. Texasville at least twice, Rhino Ranch twice now.
I was not overwhelmed with When The Light Goes but you know- everyone gets off track sometime or another.

McMurtry does this. He introduces a character or characters and he brings them back. He did this in the Terms of Endearment series and he did it again in the Lonesome Dove series and I love him for that. Some of the series have characters which crossover into another and there was even at least one example of this in Texasville. A leading character in one book may be appear in a sort of cameo in another and what starts out to be a lesser character in one book may, I suppose, grab hold of the author in some way and become the protagonist in another.
I think that McMurty falls in love with his characters and thank god because that causes us to fall in love with them too.

For my money there's no one who can beat McMurtry for pure reading pleasure. I'm sorry. I ain't no literary snob. When I read I'd like a decent story and I'd like characters who become more alive to me than people I actually know in real life and I like dialogue which is deftly handled and McMurtry is a master at all of that.

He knows how to begin a book and he knows how to end one. Same with sentences and chapters. Although this seems very basic and hardly too much to ask in an author, like common sense, it is far from common.

It's Sunday morning and our day of rest hasn't exactly become a reality in that we're doing what we usually do on any Sunday but we're enjoying it. We had our pancakes and our bacon outside and Mr. Moon washed the dishes. Bless him. When we were sitting out back at the table we watched the chickens as they went about their scratching. At one point, Flopsy took the babies over to join in where the big chickens were scratching. She has mostly kept them away from the other chickens and has threatened the teenagers if they got too close to her babies to the point where they are terrorized by her. So it was interesting to see what would happen with the new ones and the old ones and nothing much happened at all. I remarked to Mr. Moon that Flopsy knows, as any good mother does, that part of her job is to educate and socialize her children. Obviously, her babies will be part of the flock to which she belongs and this is going to happen through her intervention. I am honestly astounded to see what a truly fine mother Flopsy is. I told Mr. Moon that we humans think we're so damn special and different but when you get down to it, I don't know that many human mothers who are as dedicated to the protection and feeding and education of their children as Flopsy is. She is teaching them everything a chicken needs to know to survive both on a basic level and on a far more sophisticated one too.

I don't know if the teen chicks, the ones we hatched in an incubator, will ever become part of the flock. They move in their own wave, separate from the flock of Elvis and I feel certain that there are roosters in that group. We shall see how this all unfolds. The more I observe chickens, the more I realize there is to know about them. They have a fairly complex society and there are rules and there are ways to the flock. Many of these ways are ones which we humans share. Outsiders are suspect until proven congenial and non-threatening. There is definitely a sense of "us" and "the other." If the flock has a strong leader and protector, the odds are that the flock will not only survive but thrive and that leader gains the trust and support and cooperation of the flock through his (or her, I presume, if there is no rooster around although I really do not know) generosity and constant unselfish consideration of others.


I find the whole thing fascinating and worthy of attention. Plus, I get eggs.
I think it would behoove humans to observe and even incorporate chickens' societal ways into our own behavior. Yes, a mean rooster can rule the flock but if he steps out of bounds and uses his spurs inappropriately, he may well end up not only with a cowed and unhealthy flock, but in fact, dead and in the stew pot. The way Elvis rules his roost ensures stability, safety, and more chickens. I love the fact that we have four of his offspring now. I love the fact that Elvis seems to regard us as nonthreatening and worthy of his respect and friendship. He knows that we are here to help him feed his flock and him, too, and he seems to appreciate that. We are separate species, but we have a common goal and we are all mindful of that fact.

Ah-lah. I do love my chickens and so does Mr. Moon. I just went to the kitchen to make a cup of lemon ginger tea and saw Mr. Moon outside with a large bucket, the chickens huddled around him, making their sounds of utmost delighted enjoyment. "What are you feeding them?" I asked. "Crickets!" he said. "It's their treat!" He and Jason had bought crickets for bait yesterday when they took Owen fishing in the little pond in the woods when they were done taking down the hunting camp stuff and there were crickets left over.
"Let's save them for tonight's martini time!" said Mr. Moon. "We'll feed them to the babies too!"
If you only knew what an exciting prospect this is for us. To feed our chickens crickets!

And now I think I am going to commence with my restful day. I should go out in that garden and weed and dig up potatoes but my body says rest. And because I can, that is what I am going to do. It has already been a very fine day with the end of a good book, pancakes and bacon outside, the observation of chickens, and sitting here writing this. The weather here is unbelievably perfect and it remains cool and clear and beautiful. I don't ever recall a May quite this temperate. I had thought the new church next door might meet for the first time today but no, it doesn't seem to be happening. I feel sure it will soon. They have trimmed the azaleas and swept and mopped the church. They have taken down the old sign and their sign will probably go up soon. I wonder which sort of church it will be. Despite my feelings about religion I am not unhappy that it will soon become a place where people gather again. There is a shelter right between the church and my house where tables are built and I hope that there will be dinners on the ground there and I also hope that there will be good music and that perhaps sometimes they will leave their windows open so that we may hear it. There is a joy in the meeting of people coming together in common purpose, song, and the sharing of food.

Like... a flock.

I hope they have a good rooster. I hope they have a good story, good characters, and handle their dialogue deftly.

Happy Sunday from the Church of the Batshit Crazy, Main Chicken Branch.

Love...Ms. Moon


  1. Well, I am a bit of a literary snob and I'd agree that story and character and just plain good writing are essentials. So there you go. And you know what else? I have never read Larry McMurtry (and not because I'm a literary snob) -- I'm embarrassed about that hole in my reading, because so many people I know and respect and revere count him as one of their main "squeezes." I do believe I'm going to read him next. What do you recommend as my virgin McMurtry?

  2. Looks like good thoughts from the land this morning. Here in the city it is all homework all the time. Want to meet up for lunch this week? I can give you back your laundry basket and get my belt and maybe a dozen or two dozen eggs? I have eaten all the ones I pickled and want to reuse the brine once before I dump it. Give dad a hug for me! In fact, I think I will call you.

  3. Elizabeth- The one I read first was Moving On. It is dated in some ways due to the women's movement but damn. I love it. I have gone back to it many, many times. And it is part of the whole Terms Of Endearment Series. The main character in Moving On is Patsy who is Emma's best friend. Remember Emma? Did you see the movie of Terms of Endearment? So- it's a good starting place. I think it would capture you from the beginning. And come to think of it, it's being a bit dated also means that it contains a whole lot of what was going on in our culture in that early sixties, very transitional time.

    DTG- Thank you for calling me, baby. Yes. Let's go to lunch. Soon.

  4. chickens are very entertaining. my sister had chickens for a number of years. at one point they decided to get more chickens but this group never did integrate with the original flock. they all stayed in the same chicken yard but at opposite ends.

  5. We had chicks in the classroom for ten days. They left on Friday for a free range farm. In 10 days they completely changed and got characters and were amazing. We want chickens at school now. Maybe one day we will.

  6. I have a minor in Form and Theory, which doesn't make me a snob. It does, however, give me a little insight, and I believe that Lonesome Dove belongs on every elitist bookshelf. Love love love Gus.

  7. Ellen Abbott- They say that if you put new hens in the roost at night they will not know the difference and in the morning the new ones will blend with the old but I find this ridiculous. Chickens are smarter than that.

    Annicles- Oh! That would be so wonderful! Children should be able to observe chickens. They would learn so much! I am glad that my grandchildren have this experience. I think it is a very valuable one.

    Pamela- I've said it before and I will say it again- if there IS a great American Novel, it is Lonesome Dove. To me. For me. Gus is one of the most amazing characters I've ever met. Hell, even the minor characters are full-blooded alive. Bolivar, Pea-Eye, Lippy, Sweet Lorena, the Irish brothers. It's a novel of heft and joy and pain and perseverance and insanity and cruelty and patience and love and, and, and...
    Perhaps Elizabeth should start HERE. With Lonesome Dove. She'd fall in love with those cowboys, I betcha.

  8. Thanks for all the news that's fit to cluck from the Chicken Branch this morning. It sounds like a very satisfying day. Bisous from the France Branch. x0 N2

  9. Ok, chickens-I watch them like watching a fire burn. Fascinated. And Lucy the leghorn is the meany, no roosters in our flock. Lucy pecks the others and gets the best bits, including the slugs I toss in. She's bigger and stronger. We got hints from our chicken store, so far nothing works. I'm rooting for the maran, she's smaller and soo pretty. Maybe Lucy is jealous.

    X B

  10. N2- I LOVE that fact that there is a France Branch. Amen, sweetie.

    Beth- I am looking to you to find out how a hen-lead flock is all about as that is what I will have in Apalach. Because we WILL have chickens.

  11. Will Patton gives a good reading, doesn't he? How can he remember all the voices and inflections? Amazing stuff.

    Sounds like a good day. We had pancakes this morning too. That was after we got back to the marina. It was too rough to do much at the anchorage except haul the anchor and head back.

  12. Syd- We are at the mercy of the winds.


Tell me, sweeties. Tell me what you think.