A fascinating thing about farmers in these parts is the delight indulged by many of them, in pea fowl. In our own smallholding, up on the high fellside, we took care of a mini-flock for a while, the legacy of Earnest, or maybe it was Percy.
But four pea fowl were about four too many, and the flock was dispersed over the summer to other households. Not so the farmer neighbour’s Earnest, who would strut and stalk around the place, his gnarly feet tapping on the kitchen roof, until with a great flapping of wings, a veritable ring wraith out of Wagner, he would descend onto the picnic table to preen himself in the sun. He made quite a picture, to be fair, and you had to say he was certainly a character.
We didn’t mind that, but when he bullied our beloved Gordon, our last remaining guinea fowl, over the bird feed we strewed out for him on the porch, we had to chase him away. I didn’t know that pea cocks could be quite the mimics, but I can say that Earnest swore like a trooper as he flapped off. In those times, I hated that bird with a fierce passion.
It may have been when the Beast from the East hit these parts, and I was not very well, but somehow Earnest had got himself trapped over here, and the snow was very deep. There was only one thing for it, and that was to retrieve him and get him back to the farmer’s barn for safety. I watched as he flew onto the low stone wall, where he waited for the morning’s grain. He seemed to be dozing, and I hadn ‘t made any indication that I was after him, close as I was, so I hoped I would catch him off-guard.
I lunged, grabbing one leg, and he woke up. Man, those pinions! I wrestled him down into a snowbank where I finally got his other leg and wings pinned close to my chest. Gotcha, ya buggah.
Holding him close, I staggered through snow up to my knees across the field to the neighbour’s farmhouse, where I passed the bird over, now quite subdued. He should, I hoped, have a reasonably safe winter indoors. This had been my second pea fowl rescue (the first a few years earlier was up a tall tree in Sparty Lea to fetch a confused pea hen) and I was that proud of myself for capturing him safely and delivering him home.
I heard, in the spring, that the shock had been great for old Earnest, and he’d lost most of his feathers from the fright. Still, he’d survived the winter.
One day the farmer’s fella went in to feed freshly-feathered Earnest, figuring on letting him out shortly thereafter into the balmy outdoors. I’m not quite sure of the circumstances, then, though I seem to recall that Earnest walked over, sat himself down beside the fella, and died in his arms.
So it made us a little sad, all in all, to hear of Earnest’s demise. But to be honest, only a very little.
The photographs and the memories remain.