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"The universe is alive, and has fire in it, and is full of gods." -- Thales of Miletus

My father was constantly on the lookout for a new idea or product that would make his fortune. Some were ahead of his time, like a spray he developed that would stop a dog from peeing on a carpet. Unfortunately, during the testing phase, our family dog literally peed on the spot where my dad had sprayed the product. Others were never fully realized, among them his idea to have a straw pop out of a soda can when you opened the pop top. He should have thought outside the can and might have foreseen the juice box. But the summer I turned 12 years old, he decided the future of America's palate would be quail.

Now mind you, at that time there was not a single national producer of quail meat in the United States. Quail breed like rabbits and can begin laying eggs just 10 weeks after birth. So that June morning, he arrived home fresh from a trip to the hardware store and in short order had constructed a 12-foot by 5-foot chicken-wire cage that set up from the ground on 4-foot-tall legs. Next was a visit to a local farmer who sold him 100 little baby quail chicks. I happily volunteered to be the keeper of the quail but before being sworn in to my new office, he laid down three ground rules that I had to pledge to abide by. Rule No. 1: These are not pets. Absolutely no naming the quail. Rule No. 2: These are not pets. Absolutely no playing with the quail. Rule No. 3: These are not pets. Absolutely never take them out of the cage. I am sad to report that although I tried my best, I managed to break all three rules before the week was out.

My first crisis occurred when I discovered quail could be little jerks sometimes to each other. Some would be quite aggressive with each other. If one quail got a little cut on its leg from an errant peck, others would peck at it too until the next morning when I would discover a lifeless little clump of feathers. The solution was to keep them well-fed so no competition for food.

Then one morning after three weeks, I witnessed a sight that forever is cemented in my memory. The cage with the quail set outside our house adjacent to a large field that had long been disused for farming. It was a haven of frogs, snakes and assorted wildlife. That misty mooring, I arose early to check on one injured quail I had named Bob. His leg had gotten nicked, so I put a bandage on it to protect it (I hoped) from hostile pecking. Coming around the corner I heard a symphony of quail singing. That clear clean whistle of BOB-bob-White came on stronger than if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was singing it. Then I solved the mystery: A covey of about 25 wild quail had flown on top of the cage, and the two groups were getting acquainted in a time-honored way. I silently watched and listened to the concert from a respectful distance in awe. It sounded like I was in church. It sounded holy. "The world is full of signs and wonders," wrote Helen Macdonald, "that come, and go, and if you are lucky, you might be alive to see them."

We are animals, so it should be no surprise we think with animals, says science historian Gregg Mitman. There is a natural kinship of thought and feeling between us that can symbolize aspects of the human experience, like a simple act of song, and thereby transform us. It's true that we can easily project our feelings onto an animal like some of us do with our dogs or cats, but it would be a terrible mistake to assume other animals haven't any emotions at all.

Two months later my father sold the quail for a loss to a local game ranch. And Bob? He stayed behind, albeit in a converted bird-cage, and lived happily with us until he died at the ripe old age of 4, always singing for us every morning the songs his ancestors taught him: Bob-white.

Sey Young is a local businessman, father and long-time resident of Bentonville. Email him at seyyoung@earth-link.net.

NAN Our Town on 11/08/2018

Print Headline: Rules, choirs and community

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