Verona’s Story at Trelay

The Eagle who thought he was a Chicken.

There was a man who made his living by rearing chickens. He lived in a place that was quite close to a mountain which will be important in this story. When he’d done all he had to do for his flocks he liked to go for walks, especially in the foothills of the mountain, which loomed large in his life. We don’t know why people do or don’t do things in life. Often we think we know but we’re only guessing. I’m guessing that he liked to get away from the pecking and scrabbling and squawking of his flock, and that he liked the wider space away from home. That he wanted to wander further than he gave himself permission to do. That inside himself there was a yearning to do something more than just rear chickens. But that’s what he knew how to do and that’s what he continued to do.

One night there was a storm with quite a lot of wind and rain in the night, bringing down branches and crashing things about.

The following day he made sure all was well with his creatures, and set off on his walk earlier than usual. When he got along to a path closer to the mountain he continued with it until he was at a ledge from where he often used to look out over the long views. On this occasion he didn’t stop to look at the view at all, as his attention was taken by the sight of a bedraggled bird huddling at the base of the ledge. It was a chick of sorts and he suspected it might even be an eagle, but it was in such a poor state that he immediately, and in a practised way scooped it up. It was clearly suffering exposure after the stormy night and his instinct was to look after it. Instinctively he placed it inside his waxed jacket close to his chest and there the bird lay still.

The man turned for home. There he found a little coop where he could keep the chick till it was more settled, give it some food and warmth and try to hydrate it. Soon the creature perked up and when it got a bit lively in the coop he decided to place it alongside the other chickens so that it would be free range like they were. However they were in a large enclosure with strong fence posts. Here the bird roamed and pecked and scratched just like the others, his head down all day looking for grubs and doing what they did. Despite his looking very different he acted to all intents and purposes like a chicken.

‘HE THINKS HE’S A CHICKEN’, said the man to himself and anyone else willing to listen. And listen they did, as he was close to a walking route and the word got out that there was an eagle who thought like a chicken. HE grew quickly and his appearance was markedly different. His wings became pinions, his claws became talons, his beak had a vicious curve, quite unsuitable for pecking on the ground and yet that was what he kept doing, despite the setbacks. And he kept looking down. The word spread to a NATURALIST. This man travelled quite a way to see this phenomenon. He enjoyed a cup of tea with the chicken man who was polite but made it quite clear that he’d reared the eagle to be like a chicken and that he thought like a chicken.

THE NATURALIST THOUGHT OTHERWISE. He asked permission to pick up the eagle, which took a bit of doing but he, too, was skilled. He talked to the eagle who was no longer a chick!

‘Eagle, you are an eagle! You belong not to the earth, but to the sky! Stretch out your wings and fly!

He put him on a sturdy fence post and stood back, expecting to see him take off. But that poor cowed chicken of an eagle just jumped off the post and resumed his search for scraps like the other chickens. Not to be discouraged, the naturalist thought he’d try again. He asked if he could take him to the farmhouse roof…’Well, I think you’re mistaken’, said the man.

‘HE THINKS LIKE A CHICKEN! But I won’t stop you.’ So the naturalist took him up to the ridge of the farmhouse roof and set him down.

Eagle, you are an Eagle! You belong not to the earth, but to the sky! Stretch out your wings and fly!‘ The eagle was non-plussed. He looked about and saw all his mates pecking and scrabbling down below. And although he lifted his pinions as if to flex them and try the muscles, but he managed only a short flight, back down to the farmyard where his companions were doing their thing and he joined them.

‘I told you he thinks like a chicken! Do you believe me now?’

‘Will you give me just one more try? I’ll give up if my next idea doesn’t work, but I’ll have to stay here tonight and get up before sunrise tomorrow.’

‘Well, all right. You can sleep on an old sofa in the barn next to where they go at night.’

The naturalist was a wise man and a patient man, and he took this lack of hospitality in good form. While it was only just light he crept in among the roosting chickens and picked off the eagle from a perch where he nodded in a row with the others. It caused a little disturbance but they got away, and this time the naturalist had to carry the eagle in an old bag that he found, as he was pretty heavy, and there was that beak! He walked silently up the mountain until he got to the ledge where the eagle was found. There he paused to look at the landscape which had brightened a little. The clear blue sky told him it would soon be sunrise. He hurried further until he came to a better launching place on an outcrop of rock with a long long view. There he set down the eagle who was no longer a chick, and was also not a chicken!

Eagle, you are an Eagle! You belong not to the earth, but to the sky! Stretch out your wings and fly!

Just then the great red rim of the sun showed above the horizon . A golden flush of light spread over the earth. The eagle stretched his neck, lifted his mighty wings, stretched them as far as they could go, and with a lift that was like an intake of breath, he took off. He soared higher and higher until he was just a speck in the distance. And the naturalist let out his breath. He had been right. The bird had the soul of an eagle. What the man down with the chickens thought we don’t know. Perhaps he watched the eagle soar away. Maybe in his heart he had always known, but as he himself thought like a chicken, he could not bear that another could fly free of the pen holding him in. The naturalist didn’t stop to find out.