Folks rave about guineafowl for their tick-eating capacity. Yet, what most people don’t tell you is how incredibly loud and obnoxious these birds are! Or the fact that they can fly a fair distance, so containing them is nearly impossible. I kept guineas once before, about 10 or 12 years ago, and vowed I would never ever do it again. Stubbornly, I’ve held onto that vow all these years─right up until I received a call from Herb, one Saturday morning a few weeks back.
Originating in Africa, guineafowl are a heavy bird from the same family as chickens, grouse, and pheasants. Their heads are featherless, making them look distinctly prehistoric, while the plumage on the rest of their body tends to be some shade of grey with little white spots. I can concede, at least, that they’re a pretty cool looking bird.
Guineas evolved to follow behind African herd animals, and monkey troops, to forage in the manure left behind. In this way, they serve an important role in their native ecosystem by controlling populations of mosquitoes, flies, gnats, locusts, scorpions and other such invertebrates.
But they’re freaking LOUD!
These birds are seriously loud animals. When they get going, their raucous racket can be heard for quite some distance. It is a harsh interruption to the peaceful tranquility of the rural landscape. Personally, I find it downright offensive. I like the sounds of the wind moving through the forest canopy. I like listening to the bird-songs, and the trilling of insects. I don’t like guinea-noise drowning everything out.
And then the phone rang.
“Runamuk Acres,” I said brightly into the phone receiver. This particular Saturday was sunny and mild for late-October. I was happy to be on the farm, gearing up for a day of outdoor projects.
It was Herb.
I’d never met Herb before, but the old man knew me─and Runamuk─thanks to his wife. Apparently the woman had seen a story in the paper about Runamuk some years back, and it had resonated with her. She’d always wanted to come visit Runamuk Acres to meet me, of all people, to see if she couldn’t learn something new. Herb told me she’d passed away 2 days ago, after 47 years of marriage.
“Oh I’m so sorry, Herb!” I lamented. In that moment, grief for my late-father, my grandmother, and my beloved Aunt Lucy welled within me. They’ve all passed within the last 6 years, so I knew something of what this man was going through.
They were part of that self-sufficient older generation, Herb and his bride. They gardened, canned and stored food, hunted and processed their own meat. These people are real, honest-to-goodness Mainers. Herb described his wife as an avid herbalist, too, collecting edible and medicinal plants from the land. He said she was always putting unusual things in their salads, and getting creative with adding wild-harvested foods to their basic diet.
“I don’t know what I’m going to eat now.” Herb said several times. “She’s got jars upon jars of stuff she’s collected, all stored in the cupboards, but I don’t know how to cook anything. She did all that.”
I Said Yes
His wife was also the one who tended their small flock of poultry: a couple of aging hens, and a half-dozen guineas. He talked about funeral arrangements, sounding generally overwhelmed with life. My heart went out to the old man, and when he asked if I could take the birds off his hands, you know I said yes.
“We honor the friendship by remaining true to dreams shared in common.” Deron reminds me sometimes, when I am sad and missing my Dad, or my Nana, or Aunt Lucy.
Later that same day, Herb brought his late wife’s flock to Runamuk Acres from Norridgewock, about 40 minutes south-east of the farm. When he stepped out of his vehicle, I could see that he was a man small of stature, but big of heart. Why else would a man go to such lengths, but to honor the woman he loves?
We settled the birds into the coop, then chatted awhile in the sunshine. Mostly I listened while Herb talked about his late wife. It was plain to see that Herb had loved her dearly. He was lost without her, bereft and adrift in life at his late age. I knew that listening, and promising to care for his wife’s flock was the most compassionate thing I could do for the man.
And so─much to my chagrin─I have guineafowl yet again.
Honoring the Dream
Yes, they’re loud, and I feel a little guilty for the cacophonous racket coming from Runamuk that my neighbors must now endure. Mostly though, I feel good about taking in these birds to help Herb honor his beloved, aiding him in his grieving process. I feel good about honoring this woman I never met, who believed in me and in Runamuk. And I feel good about honoring the dream she and I shared in common. The dream to live a free and productive life, as self-sufficiently as possible, in close connection to nature, with love in our hearts.
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