Brought to the island as fighting cocks but then set free from the brutal blood sport to roam as protected citizens of Key West, the roosters have become a cultural treasure, symbolic of co-existence and a liberated mindset. Of course, there has to be at least a mother hen in this story of how love overcame conflict and they multiplied to claim their share of dominion. The roosters, the hens and the chicks though symbolize more than a story of redemption. Freedom is shared by person and animal. The beauty of the environment is part of and beyond the art and architecture. Thinking beyond the box, or coop, delivers new visions to each generation. Culture is not static but harmonizing old and new, man-made and the natural, the song with the crowing.
Why the Chicken Crossed the Road and the Visitor Stayed to become a Citizen!
Argue as you might if it is a cat or dog town, it is the roosters who have the run of the island. Birds are everywhere, from nature to culture to entertainment. Doves bestow a song of tranquility and peace. Woodpeckers and I have had a long kinship, and they call for me to throw them kernels of bread which they scoop out of midair. The small is no less than partner in communion with nature as the finch that perched upon my finger, and was not bored with my monologue, well at least for 10 minutes.
Not only at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park but like a maritime blockade, pelicans surround the island. While some are in awe of the birds of prey, hawk to anhinga, which flies below as well as above the water, ("Been There Done That Anhinga Trail"), I pay respect to the ibis and vulture consuming death and the stagnant thus enabling the dynamics of life. Flight is not just for the birds, but also the butterflies and bees. The "Green Parrot" stands out as the bar that delivers in Key West a qualitative variety of Americana and global music. The local version of the "chicken ranches" are more tame showplaces than intense "red-light," at least I think. The "birds of a feather" gather to perform at the impersonators' clubs but "flock together" with persons of variety of backgrounds and orientations. The culture of Key West is flying, even if for night as the visitor and citizen roam an end of the road that only signals the beginning of the journey. Even the Key West police get in the act by not getting into the middle of the human melee. They stand aside and intervene directly only if safety is at risk -- always thought in the best games you least saw the ref blowing the whistle.
My favorite local bird though is still the fowl originally bred to be a domesticated conformist for meal or sport but now gives flight to imagination. A few locals complain that the roosters break their sleep, dawn, midnight or afternoon siesta, as cocks crow when the mood fills them. They can stop traffic as they strut across the street, for a purpose perhaps only a chicken or human in search of something might begin to comprehend. Like so many tourists who did not go back but stayed to become island residents, life may seem aimless but it has a true purpose. Hemingway found his writing again, Tennessee Williams his play, Truman his political will and Audubon his birds eye view. Today's inspirations are now being recorded in our books, films, sculptures, paintings or perhaps on the Web to receive acclaim and recognition as time catches up to the fresh thinking.
From Fighters to Lovers to ... Contemplation?
The roosters, at least for me, present a vision of cocks who were expected to fight to the death even as they know no nationalism or understand the populist message of manipulative political leaders. Nations and people have generally been taught as to why they are different from each other by religion, race or culture. Mistrust is bred and the instinct to strike before being struck. Hate becomes rationalized. Along Key West's streets, different languages flow together like a symphony, Arabic and Yiddish, Mandarin and Japanese, Hindi and Urdu, Portuguese and Spanish, Russian and Slavic, French and German. Even the English that is spoken hints to the difference between that which now divides America, at least beyond this island paradise. Animals and humans can share empathy, perhaps the one common characteristic that should connect cultures and religions. The shopkeeper who placed the broom as stepping stone to assist chicks, following the mother hen get across the curb, was a reassurance as to what we can be. Humans though have the advantage of a more developed intellect, that unpolluted by bias, can see the benefits of diversity.
An Advocate for Beyond the Horizon:
The roosters, hens and young chickens tend to most congregate around the city's post office, right where US Highway 1 hits the "0" mile marker. It's where the Kapok tree, with the thick trunk, meets the Banyan tree with so many roots making it possible to reach up and beyond. I sometimes let my own cock-a-doodle-do let loose when I walk by arousing that crocked head look from the nearest rooster. The most happy coincidence for me though is the modest villa at the park's edge that houses the "The Fowler Law Firm." As one trained as an attorney, this further inspired me to be an advocate for the birds that cannot speak but who say so much. (See: "Do Animals Need a UN Ambassador?") I could only guess what inspiration I might harvest within me in return.
I'm not vegan but I seek cage-free eggs. While not a pacifist, I only seek a cockfight with those who advocate war as a way of life. Fear of the other is not a reason to flock, but seeking perspective in difference we congregate to learn and seek the more complete infusion of intellect and spirit. Like synesthesia, all of us have the capacity to envision beyond the overt stimulus -- Warriors for peace defining the histories of the future rather than the victories of wars past and present. (See: "More American than @realDonaldTrump?") I still enjoy the fish sandwich, but I'm confident there will come a time when we will see animals not as food but as fellow global citizen. (See: "Are Animals Global Citizens?") Now that I have reached mile marker "0," the end of the road, there is a whole other journey if you can see and calculate beyond zero. The fish hook as the tool of "the old man" will be surpassed in the future by the wind that allows him to sail the sea beyond the horizon, where "Gallo Del Cielo" rises anew.
The Greatest Cock-Fighting song of them all, "El Gallo Del Cielo" was penned by a most talented songwriter-musician many have never heard of - Tom Russell. And, I first heard it en-vivo by the Jersey Shore's great troubadour who many of you probably also never heard of, Pat Guadagno.
Watch YouTube Video: "El Gallo Del Cielo"
PHOTOS: Personal Rooster Tracks!