Captivated by the Local Animal Population




Erin Boyd

 
© Copyright 2021 by Erin Boyd




Photo of three chickens.

We give ourselves away when we travel.

Sometimes itís in the clothes that we wear. Jeans and a t-shirt are seen as a standard uniform from certain parts of the world. That clutching of a backpack by someone decades removed from the schoolroom mark my mother as someone whoís cobbled together a stash of random necessities: water bottles, wipes, umbrella, jacket.

Every so often, itís the accents that will give us away. But sometimes neither are necessary to make certain that we stand out as tourists.

ďChickens!Ē

I canít help the exclamation.

The walk up the hill is steep, but I suddenly canít feel the strain in my legs. I am far too focused on the trio of orange birds up ahead.

The narrow road leads up to our Inn. Small, old cottages on one side and a cliff rising on the other. Our inn is at the top of the incline. It can wait.

Here, just outside an old fence, are a handful of hens. They pay my mother and I little mind. What good are tourists to them, after all?

They must be out often. They are probably ignored by everyone who live in this small, seaside town on the Isle of Mull. To anyone who regularly traipses up and down this hill, they would be unremarkable. I stop and stare and reach for my camera.

A tourist to the core. I show my stripes with my need to document seemingly mundane aspects of life.

They are a novelty for us.

The birds donít squawk. They simply meander in small circles with that odd waddle.

Thereís a girl, no more than six years old, who has snuck away from her parents. Sheís joined us to watch the birds peck and pace. We make an odd trio of spectators.

Near the stone fence, the trio of chickens are utterly ambivalent to us. The girl, with her pink sweater and floral dress, mean nothing. I am only a large shadow, in sneaker and a jeans, with a dull green jacket. My mother stands to the side, that backpack held to the side as she watched the orange birds as they ignore us all. A fascinating trio ignoring a trio of tourists.

It's hardly unusual, a child being fascinated with the indifferent birds. Itís us, the two grown women, that are peculiar.

But we live in the suburbs, smack between two bustling major cities. There are neat strips of grass between ribbons of concrete on our daily commutes. There are no farms or pastures. Neat, decades old developments with an even pace of retail strips and gas stations. They outnumber parks by five to one. Hardly a region for even backyard homesteading. The wildlife are stubborn groundhogs, the odd raccoon, and the small flock of sparrows that had claimed a bush in our front yard. The animals we see regularly are squirrels, cats, and leashed dogs.

So here we are, staring.

No doubt these birds are familiar with the intrusion of tourists coming through the town and staring at them.

Later, Iíll wonder if the locals shake their head in exasperation at such a sight. Do they think it strange to have a grown woman crouched down to get a picture of a simple chicken rooting for bugs? Or is it par for the course?

We are an odd trio: my mother, grey haired, myself, grown but just barely, and a small girl who doesnít speak a word to either of us. All three of us watch the birds, fascinated. The chickens pay us no mind, uninterested in someone who isnít going to give them food or try to herd them back over the old fence. Do other visitors to Tobermory stop and stare? Are the birds secretly preening under the attention?

My camera is free, snapping a few pictures as if they were some rare species that some ornithologists might treasure. The photos will join the rest from our exploration of Mull.

There had been a wildlife tour just yesterday evening. Several hours spent watching for birds as they flew over one lane roads in the middle of fields. I had managed to capture a handful of pictures that werenít a blurry smudge against a slowly darkening sky. It was the height of accomplishment for someone who knew nothing about photographing wildlife.

The guides from the night before had been a duo with the keen eyes that could identify birds high in the sky that we could barely see. It had been an enchanting venture, where my mother and I decided that we were being driven through a landscape painting.

We had spent the past night venturing through the Isle of Mull, spotting kestrels overhead and Eurasian otters in the water. We desperately tried to avoid midges. When told about the spider in the window of the van eating one of the pesky midges, our guide had pointed out that we had a Ďfree ecological serviceí. We had wished the small spider happy feasting. When we stopped in the middle of a dirt road, we had found company not in chickens, but in dark slugs. They had been dedicated to their slow progress towards the ankle high grass. They were just as indifferent to my cameraís focus as these domesticated birds.

Now, there would be a pair of chickens mixed in with sea birds and eagles.

I know we have to continue on our way up to the Inn. We have a meal to find and then a pair of narrow beds to keep us through the night.

Maybe the chickens will be out tomorrow, I think, lowering the camera. Itís such a silly thing to captivate me, but thatís the point of travel: to see things you never get to see while going through the routine of life.

Eventually, the young girl is collected by her parents. My mother and I wander away from the hens, glancing back several times, fascinated by what just might be the most common bird on the planet.


Erin  graduated from the University of  Maryland Baltimore County with a Bachelorís in History. She has a fondness for working in library stacks, which she's done for the past decade and a half. She has occupied idle hours with books (reading everything from history to fantasy), travel (three continents down, four to go), and her attempts to mimic gourmet food (sometimes successful, other times embarrassing).



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