Morning has broken

I wake gradually to the sound of a strangled rooster crowing.

“Eh-oo-ehhh-arrgh,” he gasps. “Eh-oo-ehhh-arrgh!”

There are still roughly 1,200 fires burning all over California, including the recent and emotionally wrenching one at Big Sur (some of the most beautiful coastline in the world is succumbing to flames), but a swirling high-pressure area over the ocean, high-level winds blowing north and the lower-level, inland-rushing Delta breezes have combined to vastly improve the air quality, at least around here.

So it’s not the wildfire smoke that’s throttling the rooster. “Eh-oo-ehhh-arrgh,” he cries.

My alarm goes off. I reach out and smack it. That pretty, thin, graydawn light flows in the window. I hear robins threeping madly, monotonously, in the laurals. Stellar’s jays shouting and cussing at each other in the evergreens down the hill a bit. And, undaunted, bravely, “Eh-oo-ehhh-arrgh!”

It comes to me, slowly, that of the five chickens we keep, not a single one is a rooster. They’re all laying hens. And although they’re getting a bit long in the tooth (beak? Wattles?) they’re still gifting Mr Wren and me with four or five eggs a day. These, in turn, we gift to friends and family. Truly, there’s nothing like a fresh hen’s egg for brekky.

“Eh-oo-ehhh-arrgh!”

Because there is no rooster, the only chicken that could be making this strange sound is the one I’ve privately dubbed “Ethel,” the alpha-hen in our coop. Over the years she’s gotten bigger than the other four girls, a robust red matron with strong, scaly yellow legs and an impressive wattle and comb, compared to her sisters.

I’ve thought I’ve heard her doing her damndest to crow before, but I was never sure. I’d hear the sound once, a sort of half-hearted, tentative yodel that made me pause, but only for a moment.

“Eh-oo-ehh-arrgh!” hollers Ethel at the rising sun, clearly stepping boldly into her role as surrogate Rooster-in-Charge. Someone has to do it, after all.

You can’t help but admire her cluck.

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