Friday, February 27, 2015

Ernie the Rooster

This weekend we said goodbye to possibly the most unforgettable critter to ever call our ranch home.
His name was Ernie the Rooster.

Ernie came to our place as a sweet baby chick several years ago.  I said if we ever had a rooster that got mean, he'd be chicken soup in no time.  Well, Ernie became more than mean.  I'd liken him to a feathered terrorist.  But his wicked ways fell somewhere between making us panic and laugh, so his time with us well outlasted his welcome.

If there ever was a rooster that you'd expect to have a great temperament, it would have been Ernie.  Cole tried to make a pet out of him from the start.  He'd perch Ernie on his shoulder and together they'd spend hours wandering around the farm.  I'd say most of the days of Ernie's first spring and summer were spent lovingly smothered by our chicken-loving kid.

Maybe our biggest mistake was naming Ernie after our favorite animal character in the book Harris and Me.  [If you've never heard of the story, and you love to laugh, read it today.  You'll quickly understand why naming Ernie was likely a bad idea, and why we set ourselves up for disaster from the get-go.]  

Ernie grew from a harmless little ball of feathers into a sneaky predator, always on the prowl, about the time he found his crowing voice. One morning, before we'd really discovered his change from innocence, Keith was out working cows when he heard Cole screaming, "AHHHH!!! He's killing me!!"  Clay ran to check out the scene and returned, telling Keith, "He's beating him up pretty bad, Dad." 
"He's just a chicken.  How bad can it be?" Keith replied.  It wasn't until the next week when Ranch Boss was in his shorts and flip flops that Ernie bolted for him, and he soon learned how Cole felt.

Ernie didn't pick favorites.  If you were within his sight, you were a perfectly acceptable target.  A good friend, Bob, was over one day when Ernie came at him from about 50 yards away.  That bird just wouldn't stop trying to attack him, and after a half dozen times, Bob managed to grab Ernie by the legs, tuck his head into his wing, and swing him around upside down, eventually putting him to sleep.  Unfortunately for most of our visitors, they weren't raised on a Wyoming farm where they'd learned such a trick, and their best possible defense was running to safety or getting ahold of something to beat the bird off with. 

You learn to get creative (and fast) when a rooster like Ernie has instilled such fear in you.  Clay resorted to wearing his motorcycle gear when Ernie was running loose.  Helmet, chest protector, boots...the whole works.  Carson's sources of aid included golf clubs, rakes, shovels, and baseball bats.  Cole stopped traveling on foot through the areas surrounding the chicken coop, and rode his dirtbike instead.  That didn't stop Ernie; he waited for Cole one day as he rode by, and dive-bombed from the fence, landing right on the handlebars of the bike.
The story is a blur from there.

Still, it seemed that Cole was always trying to give Ernie another chance to redeem himself.  He'd come up with theories of how to approach him, where to approach him, and every other possible magic formula that might help the rest of us understand that Ernie wasn't entirely mean.  One afternoon, Cole came in the house, blood running down his face and tears in his eyes; his latest suggestion that Ernie could be handled while inside the coop had failed when Ernie pecked the skin right off his nose.  Poor kid...he tried to convince himself, probably more than us, that there was some slight bit of goodness in that orange-eyed demon of a bird.
I think that day he realized there was no hope.

Today I walked by the chicken coop and the door was open.  My heart skipped a beat, and I immediately looked behind me to make sure I wasn't about to be attacked...since that's what I've learned to do over these past few years.  In a quick moment, I remembered I don't have to do that anymore.  
I don't have to sneak and tiptoe around our barn silently, fearing that I'm being hunted by a 9 pound killer.  
He's no longer lurking in the dark corners, waiting for his chance to chase me down.  

Some things in our lives are better as memories, and today, I'm glad that Ernie the Rooster is now one of them. :)

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