Peacocks and Politics
I’ve spent much of the summer on the Eastern shore of Maryland on a river, writing and listening to the quiet lapping of the water against the stones of the river bank, except when jet skis whish by and when the peacocks next door caw and caw at the neighbor’s farm. The peacocks call to each other all day long, broken by a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-do…actually the rooster is yodeling now, though I don’t know what he’s heralding in the middle of the afternoon.
The peacocks wander over from time to time, running across our yard like stealthy children hiding from their parents. I don’t know what prompts their visits. They usually leave a mess, but their brilliant feathers swishing by always surprise and astonish me.
Today as I was moving to a table outside to write this blog, I discovered one of the females nesting, hidden in a bush outside the house and, I believe, hatching a brood of eggs. I don’t know when she arrived, but she lay there motionless as though she had gone into a deep sleep, moving not at all as she protected her eggs. I’m not sure how long gestation is for peacocks, but soon we will be host to baby peacocks! Since the birds wander from farm to farm, no one claims ownership, certainly not me, but suddenly I feel a responsibility, for exactly what, I can’t say, at least a responsibility to give the mother the peace and quiet she has sought by escaping here, away from the other peacocks and roosters. Occasionally we have a dog visit on the weekend so my first responsibility is to make sure the dog doesn’t find the peacock.
I look up the facts: Technically she is a peahen, the female of the peafowl family. The gestation period is 28 days; she should hatch three to five eggs so we must be on watch this month. I will set out a bowl of water. That probably isn’t necessary…but what else does one do? I assume the mother knows how to feed herself though she looks completely immobile. Maybe her mate comes and feeds her? Only the male—the peacock—has the luminous tail, and this information coincides with the dull brown-feathered back of the big bird in the bush. According to the sources, the baby chicks will walk and eat and drink on their own from the first day. I am relieved by this information.
I read that the peacock inhabits just a few countries, mostly in Asia, though I have also watched and followed peacocks around parks in London. The feathers which contain the circular green and blue, red and gold eyes make this bird one of the most beautiful of all species, though one source notes that the feathers are actually brown, and it is because of the reflection of light that the feathers look so colorful. With its tail dragging behind it like a train, the peacock can be as long as five feet. This train when spread into a fan frames the whole body of the bird, making it one of the largest flying birds. The peacock uses its tail to attract its mate, and the female is thought to choose her mate by the size and color and quality of the train—no meeting of the minds. The peacock is not monogamous.
Peacocks can live up to 20 years so we had better consider what we are in for with the peahen choosing our yard for its manger. It is a rare treat to have peacocks close by, but it is also a mixed blessing for they screech and poop and bicker angrily. They fly into trees to protect themselves; I don’t yet know if that includes the baby chicks. They are considered an endangered species so we are overseeing the hatching of endangered birds which will then grace our trees at night and call and complain at all hours. To date they have lived at our neighbors’, but he would happily have them migrate to our yard. For now we will wait and have to see how these new lives will adjust and harmonize, or perhaps after the birth, they will all march off, back to where they came from.
Originally I was coming outside to write another blog today. I hadn’t posted in two months, and a voice in my head was nagging me to do so even while I argued that I was finishing a long manuscript. I was reviewing interviews and background relating to the NGO crackdown in Egypt and one particular highly respected Egyptian journalist who had taken on a position to train journalists in Egypt for an American-based NGO. He was indicted, along with 42 others, in the sweep of those working for foreign NGO’s last year and forced to stand in a cage during the trial sessions.
Though he hadn’t even started his work for the International Center for Journalists, Yehia Ghanem, well-known international correspondent and managing editor and supervisor for Al-Ahram, one of the leading Arabic newspapers, was given a two-year prison sentence in June. He has been slandered and his family attacked because he worked with a Western non-governmental organization promoting professional journalism.
Ghanem was visiting the U.S. when the verdict was handed down. Because the evidence was extremely thin to nonexistent that any law had been broken, he and others assumed the verdict would be acquittal. Instead he and others were found guilty. It was a political, not a judicial verdict, he said.
Ghanem has chosen for the moment to stay in the US, but he has had to leave his family in Egypt, where one of his sons has been attacked. While he and others wait for forces there to respond to the 22 million people who signed a petition seeking a new constitution and election and a more democratic Egypt, he is living in limbo, working on a book, settling in at a university and hoping. He will appeal the verdict.
I don’t know that these two stories connect except circumstantially. I was on the way to set up my computer outside to write this post when I came across the peahen hidden in the garden, guarding her eggs. Two stories of gestation perhaps. I take a lesson from the fortitude and courage of our Egyptian colleague and offer my hope for the successful rebirth of a nation.
The posting of this blog was delayed for several weeks. In the interim the peacock eggs have hatched. Four newborn chicks have returned with their mother to their home next door. The situation in Egypt has deteriorated. The fate of Yehia Ghanem remains uncertain and even more problematic.
Charming story about the peacocks, Joanne. I had no idea you had a home in Maryland. Yes, the situation in Egypt looks worse and worse. So much for “Arab Spring.”
This article reminded me of the peacocks we saw in Macedonia at a PEN Congress. It was a rainy day and they were on an island in Lake Ohrid at a monastery. I think I remember at least one was an albino; could this be true? In any case they were gorgeous.
The nesting peahen is a wonderful blessing for you. As well as being the grandmother of little humans, you may well be godmother to some little peacocks. Lucina Kathmann
Thanks so much for your blog. I watched a family of cardinals prepare for the hatching of two eggs just outside my garden door on East 90th Street in Manhattan last spring. When the babies were born, the mother and father had very different and specific tasks as their babies matured. Mama was in charge of shielding the chicks from foul weather. And I saw only Papa feeding the chicks..with tiny worms, protein only. He didn’t touch the cracker crumbs I offered.
I was fortunate enough to see Papa Cardinal cheer his kids on as they took their first steps away from the nest, much like a human papa coaching the soccer team. I too had an irrational sense that I was playing a nurturing role in the family drama I was watching….and I was in total awe of the cycle of life, right outside my door.
This year, the cardinals are nearby but the nest is not in sight. A few weeks ago, I saw this year’s Papa (who has had the strange habit of slamming into my door for weeks, without noticeable effect except possibly giving himself a headache)…and finally, I saw him with two teenagers a few days ago, probably this year’s new babies.
The birds’ cycles are predictable and ancient and humbling to watch. As we ponder the horrors in Egypt…and on the streets of America where young black men are routinely profiled and harassed by cops (and at least one was killed in Florida) just because of the color of their skin, I wish we could all take lessons in simplicity and kindness from the birds.
An interesting two-parter. Thank you for it! Impressed that you, as a good journalist, did your research about peabirds. Glad your Egyptian friend is in the USA though it must be difficult in the circumstances to leave one’s family at home. Distressing to see the Egyptian military do what Americans regard as all the wrong things. Which tends to show how different things look from different perspectives. Wonder where Egypt goes from here.
I braved the Kathmandu zoo today with two of my grandchildren. The peacocks and golden pheasants were glorious ,although the girls were quite taken with the smelly jackals too, and thereby hangs the connection with your story about peacocks and politics. We champion the just and beautiful, people as well as animals, but the stinky jackals are always waiting to hypnotise the innocent.”
Joanne, I loved the story about the peahen. I hope you will update us on what transpires. Somehow all of us who have read your blog now feel connected to her. And yes, keep the dog away!
The story of Yehia Ghanem is one of courage and making difficult choices. I am reminded of Stephen Lauheade’s poem which also deals with choices that life presents to us. It is as follows:
“The higher a man’s call or purpose, the more choices he must make.
That is our work in creation – To Decide.
And whatever we decide will be woven in the thread of time and being forever.
Choose wisely then, but, You Must Choose.”
I would be curious to follow Yehia’s future as he deals with these choices, and carries on.
Best regards to you and Peter. Enjoy the Maryland coast and Perry’s Cabin whenever you can.