A few afternoons ago, I observed two great examples of cooperation.
The first occurred when I took a baggie full of too-long-gone mozzarella down to the chicken coop. On the off-chance that you don't understand fowl palate like I do, let me tell you that there's nothing under the sun that chickens (and ducks) love more than cheese. I suspect they smell it the minute I remove it from the fridge, because they always have this anticipatory expression on their little chicken faces whenever I emerge from the house and walk them down a bit of cheese. You should see the way their miniscule hearts flutter under those chests as I reach my hand into that baggie and pull out that hunk of orange (or white, as was the case in this week's drama). You could hear a feather drop as they watch my fingers twist off the first bits. Their beady black eyes latch onto my arm as I rear back for the toss, then follow the trajectory of the moldy treasure as it approaches, then clears the netting and plops to earth. The ruckus that ensues reminds me of my department store security days when I'd unlock the front door, jump aside to safety, and watch women jostling each other through the double-doors, racing to the end-of-the-month clearance rack, and scrappling over just-reduced purses and scarves like we were all stranded together on a desert and the table was full of tall glasses of ice water.
The chickens are a tad more polite--but just a tad. They clucked and scratched and pecked like those shreds of mozzarella cheese might be their last meal. They made just enough frantic noise that they aroused the curiosity of our five baby chicks (hatched just this week) and drew them out from under the hen house, where they'd been hiding. They pushed their teensy toothpick feet into high gear, skittered straight over to the chaos and stared up at the faces of those grown-up chickens, slobbering over their cheesy beakfuls.
Either those chicks didn't have a clue what to do, or they were afraid to compete for cheese (which is my guess), because they all just stood to the side, watching the frenzy. Until the rooster--yes, the rooster--decided to mother them a bit. I watched him select a long strand of mozzarella, walk over to the chicks, drop it on the ground, and peck it into smaller pieces. Then he stepped back a bit and waited for them to descend upon his offering. They did--and cheese love was born right before my eyes. I could see delight filling and stiffening those five, fluffy bodies. As one, they turned and stared at the circle of hens fighting over the feast, but though they hopped in frustration, they didn't venture over. I didn't blame them. The rooster took pity again and brought them another strand. And it went like that for a good five minutes. Every once in awhile, he'd take a bite for himself, but for the most part, he fed those chicks.
While I was watching the tender scene, a movement up in the walnut tree caught my eye. Now, before I tell you what I saw, I must explain that we planted that walnut tree a good twelve years ago, and we've yet to eat a single walnut. The nuts have been coming on for the last four years, but while we wait for the big green orbs to ripen and drop, something keeps happening to them. We're quick, Dave and I. It only took three years for us to surmise that some nut-loving thief was climbing the tree and taking all our walnuts. And sure enough, when I turned my attention from the chicken yard and looked up at that movement in the tree, my gaze landed smack on a brazen squirrel. There he was--stealing my walnuts in broad daylight.
"YOU!" I yelled. I stormed over to the edge of the tree, scanned the ground for a weapon, and threw the little pebble I found straight up at the tree. Missed him by a mile, but it felt good to do something proactive. From between the leaves, I heard squirrel laughter. I amused him, apparently. To retaliate, he dropped a walnut about three inches from my head. I picked it up and scowled at the tiny squirrel tooth marks that marred the flesh. I very nearly threw it back up at him, until it occurred to me that I was holding our first-ever harvested walnut. Sure, someone else did the harvesting ... but the little gem was mine now.
I looked up at the squirrel and back down at the ground, and I saw the way things were. Apparently, his plan was to climb the tree, chew the stem end of the nut, and drop the orb to the ground, where he'd no doubt collect them later. Or so he thought. I retreated back toward the coop and perched on a hay bale. Then I spent a half hour or so listening to the sounds of our winter snack being dropped to the ground. My anger toward the squirrel lessened as I sat there, and by the time I'd gathered an enormous bowlful of green walnuts and walked back to the house, I felt almost friendly toward him.
Cooperation is a powerful unifier.
Today after church, I'll be flying down to southern California to attend our annual Calvary Chapel Pastors' Wives Conference. After the conference, we (we being Fran and I) will attend Wednesday night service at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, then stop at Disneyland for Fran's first-ever visit to the Happiest Place on Earth. Miss me while I'm gone, okay?