In the first half of the 19th century, the American painter, Edward Hicks, produced over 50 depictions of his most famous work, “The Peaceable Kingdom.” In them, he shows lions, tigers and other wild animals, along with their domestic cousins, oxen, sheep and more, living peaceably with children and their pets.
I often think of those images when I go out in the barnyard to minister to our own menagerie of fowl. Over the years, when I have introduced new members to the group, I have met with hostility on the part of the “Been Heres,” obviously fearful that the arrival of the newbies will mean a diminution on their own servings of food. Such, of course, never has been the case, but telling someone of Gladys’ ilk that she need not be concerned is not an easy task.
She views the newcomers as being beneath her self-inflated level of esteem and clearly wishes that they simply would go away. I have to be most careful in placating her, while at the same time ensconcing the new ones in their home. This past spring, when the Three Musketeers, in the form of delightful domestic mallard ducklings, came on the scene, Gladys could not resist showing her displeasure. She was most unwelcoming, and I was embarrassed by her deportment.
Anticipating her reaction, I had kept the young ducks apart from Gladys for over two months. She could see them, but not have direct contact with them and, most importantly, could not peck at them. When I let them loose to mingle with the other fowl, I feared that Gladys would need professional counseling at which level I would be unable to administer it to her.
To my utter astonishment, Quack, the Khaki Campbell drake, took Gladys’ side, showing his own resentment at his fellow ducks, which he still considers to be upstarts, usurpers, or brigands. On the other hand, Henry, the Canada goose who eschews joining his fellow migratory gaggles heading north in the summer or south in the winter, was nonplussed by the new individuals.
In reality, Henry does not think of himself as a goose, but rather as a person. He craves human companionship. I have noted in previous items that he would prefer to live inside with the rest of those of us whom he considers to be his family, but, alas, that would be too much of an imposition on my Good Wife, who is not enthused by his pecking at the storm door, hoping someone will open it for him to enter. Naturally, her wishes take precedence over Henry’s. My role is to keep everyone as happy as possible.
I have been pleased that the chickens do not seem to feel threatened by the Musketeers. They do not appear even to be thinking of them, despite living with them in such close proximity. Inasmuch as the ducks cannot roost, but are strictly ground-based, and do not fly, although they could, I presume that the chickens do not contemplate them at all. If they get on their nerves, the chickens simply hop up on their roost and ignore them.
The Three Musketeers, whom at times I affectionately call “Huey, Louie and Dewey,” have developed into spectacularly beautiful birds. I am certain that were he alive today, Edward Hicks would jump at the idea of portraying them as subjects in his art. The three of them are truly a band of brothers—regrettably all are drakes, hence no eggs. They live by Alexandre Dumas’ motto, “All for one and one for all.”
Given Gladys’ temperament, the barnyard is not exactly Hicks’ “peaceable kingdom,” but instead exists in a state of détente. Would that the world could do as well.
Erratum: Thanks to Ted Munns for noting the slip in last week’s item in my citing of the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum.