Flannery O’Connor, saint foncé of southern gothic fiction, wrote brilliant, often disturbing, and frequently comical stories that combine religious themes with violent imagery. She also tended peacocks. Peacocks. I’m certainly not a brilliant writer, but I do think I understand how life with peacocks might feed a gothic spirit.
Ray and I share the Row with a 14 adult and 13 baby peacocks. They all have names, though they could care less. And it seems we now have a permanent resident wild turkey hen, Hedda Gobbler, and her three healthy chicks, as well.
Like all good gothic characters, our peacocks live on the fringe. In spite of their affinity for handouts, they do not want to be touched by humans. And while they’re willing to roost in the rafters of an open-sided shed if it’s 30 below, they will not be rounded up, penned, caged, or chicken-housed. We live around them, not with them—we feed, water, and protect them, but they will never be ours.
The splendor of male peacocks belies their violence. During breeding season, adult males will face off and circle each other slowly. Then, in a sudden burst of flapping wings they’re up, diving at each other mid-air, slashing away with bony spurs on the backs of both legs. Down, circle, up, slash. Repeat to exhaustion.
Like the suddenness of O’Connor’s violent outbursts, peacock mating is violent in its explosive brevity. A male flutters his train full of eyes—spooky enough—thrums wing feathers, rattles tail feathers, and high-steps toward a hen. Then he’s suddenly on top of her, beating his wings and yelling triumphantly, for what seems like a split-second. Check out this video of the dance: http://ishare.rediff.com/video/nature-wildlife/peacock-mating/330416
We learn gothic lessons from our peas, too, lessons that are oddly beautiful and often terribly sad. Like this morning, when Ray found one of the quints, about a month old now, dead on the ground near the Roosting Tree. We knew something was wrong even before we found her, because the flock had been frantically calling since dawn.
So I sit sometimes in my greenhouse office, voyeur to pealife, weakly channeling Flannery. Is it any wonder that my poems are rife with tormented saints, unhappy coincidence, and the aloof or twisted faithful?
Emilie's minion on the moveThis begins another summer of wandering and adventuring! I intend to post once or twice a week, except for the month of July wh...
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