Prairie Chicken



I came through the valley where the homesteaders had tried to make a go of it for a few years, past the tin cans and other evidence of their short stay trying to rust itself back into the ground. Up over the crest of the hill where the Indians had lived for centuries with no more evidence than the weathered rocks of teepee rings.

It was spring and I stumbled onto what they may have seen for years, the ageless mating ceremony of about twenty-five or thirty grouse. They didn’t see or hear me and I stopped about ten yards away and watched, although my mother might not have thought it proper.

The hens ran around, heads down and tails high in unbashful invitation; while the cocks puffed up the air bags in their chests and drummed their challenge.

And they looked handsome and brave in their posturing and beckoning and their readiness for reckoning. And the fights were on, straight on and straight up, with spurs and feathers flying.

It was vicious but pure. Not a cock fight for the amusement of the bloody minded,
but a way to see that only the strongest would sire the little broods that
would have to survive the hawks and the snakes and the weather
and all the dangers of a land where it
takes a great deal of courage –
just to be a chicken.