Darryl and his Brother


Four Calling Birds

Three French Hens

Two Turtle Doves

And a Guinea Cock in a Pine Tree

It was a perfect winter day, the morning after the first real snow of the season. The pines were bent at the waist, arms outstretched and overburdened. I squinted against the brilliance and waded through hip-deep powder to feed the horses and chickens and the two dumb-as-dirt guinea cocks.

The chickens backed politely from the door as I stepped inside the coop. But the guineas plunged from their perches, ricocheted off the walls, sent the food and water dishes flying, then torpedoed through the chicken door to the attached covered run. There they hurled themselves against the wire and exploded into a great gallimaufry of honks and whines and rattles, undoubtedly convinced that today would be the day I invited half the neighborhood for a guinea roast.

I poured warm water and filled the feeders, tossed some extra layer pellets and scratch on the floor so the hens could amuse themselves hunting for it. And I turned to leave.

One little black hen plopped herself just outside the door. She flopped to her side on the sunny stoop, stuck her toes in the air and fluffed her feathers. Rather than close the door, I tied it open, allowing all the birds to have a turn at what passed for sunbathing in a New Hampshire winter.

I was in the barn when the guineas poked their heads out. They sounded like a thousand lawn mowers trying to start and failing, sputtering to life and dying in a never-ending cacophony. They’d never seen snow before, and their tiny brains were incapable of processing the overnight change to their world.

And then, as he did every morning, Darryl sprang to the air and flew across the backyard, fifteen honks per flap, landing with his typical lack of grace on his usual perch atop the stump of an ancient apple tree. Unfortunately the stump was buried by nearly two feet of the snow.

A moment later, so was Darryl.

Guineas cannot be silenced, unless permanently so. True to form, Darryl burst through the surface, screaming as if he’d been held down and stuck with sporks. Flapping his wings and scrabbling with dinosaur claws, he paddled through the drifts, unable to push against anything solid, and thus unable to leave the ground.

Darryl swam to the bottom rail of the paddock fence, still screaming, scrambled up and leapt to the air. He flew to the branch of a nearby pine tree where he hunkered down and hollered continuously for the next two hours. His brother, also Darryl, flew to the paddock fence and joined what could best be described as a two-bird fillibuster. I covered my ears and left them alone, assuming they’d find their way back to the coop by nightfall.

This was when I believed guinea fowl had more cognitive power than a brain stem connected to vocal chords.

Darryl decided his branch represented safety, a haven from white quicksand. He wasn’t coming down. Ever.

It was only ten degrees Fahrenheit out, predicted to drop well below zero by morning. And while Darryl could survive the cold, it was unlikely he’d survive the owls and fisher cats. The tree he was in was not tall, a crappy white pine with dead lower branches, snapped close to the trunk, so only an inch or so protruded from the bark.

It could be climbed.

I was wearing muck boots and a snow suit. Slippery muck boots and a slipperier snow suit. I looked up at that four-dollar guinea and wondered how much my emergency room copayment would be when I landed on the rock pile underneath the ass end of that cock.

I am nothing if not stupid, so I climbed. Did I mention I was sick with the flu? Dizzy? Sweating? Not entirely right in the head? I thought not, so I’ll mention it now.

It was not easy – that much I remember. I slipped a lot, broke what was left of those branches, held on with my knees and shinnied like the wiry child I no longer was. I finally managed to get within a couple feet of Darryl, and I reached up and tried to shift him from his perch to my arm.

Darryl flew to the adjacent tree.

It was maple and a much easier climb. But when I reached him he flew to another pine, one I couldn’t climb. Drenched with sweat, panting and frozen, I stood on the ground below him and considered shooting the dang bird so we could enjoy the meat.

I’ve been told it’s tasty.

I threw sticks at him. He didn’t see them as a threat. I threw snowballs. He was in no danger. I’ve never been able to hit anything, and he seemed to know it. Finally I gave up and left him, and spent a sleepless night haunted by dreams of his demise.

I did check on him around midnight, and two a.m., and four a.m., and he was still there, a snail-shaped silhouette against the louring sky. I thought maybe, just maybe he would survive until morning. And perhaps with the light of a new day, he would come down.

He survived, but he did not come down.

Just before nightfall on day two I waded to the base of his tree carrying a small hand saw. The tree was frozen, so I didn’t get far, but I did manage to cut halfway through the trunk before I admitted defeat. And I strained my shoulder and nicked a few fingers.

Once I gave up sawing, I climbed the tree next to Darryl’s and threw things at him. In a moment of near delirium, I reached across to his tree, grabbed a branch, and gracefully swung to the tree I’d just sawed halfway through.

It didn’t fall.

I shinnied to the ground. Darryl ruffled his feathers, shoved his head beneath a wing, and I suppose he went to sleep.

On day three of the guinea vigil, Darryl’s brother Darryl sat on the fence post all day, honking. He hollered at Darryl, and then he hollered at me. I told him I couldn’t get his stupid brother down, and I suggested he have a go.

Darryl joined his friend on the branch. That night, there were two Darryls in that tree. Darryl Two draped a wing over Darryl One, and darn, that show of concern made it hard to give up.

On day four of the guinea saga, I stopped hinting to my husband that perhaps he could help me.  Instead I asked.

Jim is better with a saw than I am, and it wasn’t long before he had Darryl’s tree on the ground with only a few fence boards broken. Darryl One was half-starved and too weak to fly, so he wobbled off behind the run-in shed. I picked up Darryl Two and tossed him in Darryl One’s general direction. Before long the two of them met up and started honking at the horses – Lord knows why.

As the sun set, I herded the two guineas back to the coop. Darryl One, in the lead, was eclipsed by Darryl Two, hot on his heels. Darryl One barely cast a shadow. He ate enough for five guineas over the next few weeks, and in time he plumped back up.

I still find it touching how Darryl Two tried to shelter Darryl One under his wing. But the camaraderie didn’t last.

Come spring, the guineas engaged in a new activity that Jim and I dubbed The Running of the Darryls. Every evening, the two guinea cocks ran laps around the perimeter of our five acres until Darryl One collapsed from exhaustion. Darryl Two then leapt onto Darryl One’s back and ripped out feathers. As time went on Darryl One looked more and more like a refugee from a pillow factory.

I gave Darryl Two away.

Darryl One started pecking my bantam chicks to death. So he too went to a new home – one with other guineas. Have I learned anything from my guinea fowl experience?

I told myself the next time I was faced with an animal too stupid to live, I’d remove it from the gene pool and have it for supper.

But…

I now have a rooster with a broken leg in a sling in a cage in my kitchen, so I’m guessing the lesson didn’t take, and likely never will.

9 thoughts on “Darryl and his Brother

  1. I could just picture you and your Guineas! You’re an excellent writer! I’m enjoying your stories. I’m originally from Maine, so I could feel the cold in my bones as I read. I live in Missouri now and have horses and chickens too. Thanks for sharing! Cindy Prindle

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