It had taken me all of three years to train my Labrador not to retrieve the fowl oven ready.
And today, for the first time, the Smácht had paid off. In a clump of heather, beneath a sheer cliff face in the Burren, he displayed textbook behaviour. His tail arched and pointed to the sky alerting me to the location of our prey. With his eyes, he mesmerised the bird into a state of total immobilisation like a rabbit blinded in the glare of a headlight. All he needed was the command from me, and the bird was as good as in the bag.
Potter could be forgiven for not knowing it was midsummer, and that my gun was safely ensconced at home in it’s security case obediently awaiting the opening of the shooting season in September. He was singularly unimpressed when I gently ushered him aside and stooped to see what he’d discovered. There, amidst the fronds of heather was a magnificent bird of prey. It peered out at us with beautiful but scarified eyes of amber yellow. One of it’s wings hung limply by its side. Clearly, it had fallen from one of the cliffs overhead and had been abandoned by its mother.
Instinctively I thought of Ronan Byrne, the Friendly Farmer. No one in Ireland knows more about birds and their well being. I resolved to bring the bird to Ronan at once.
‘It’s an eagle chick and it’s in bad shape. The best that we can do with it now is put it in with the other chickens and let nature take its course’ said Ronan emphatically.
And that’s precisely what happened. We christened the eagle chick Iolar, the Irish word for an eagle, and over the proceeding weeks and months she flourished. She got on like the proverbial house on fire with the other hens and chickens. In time she learned to peck like a chicken, scratch like a chicken, strut like a chicken. She even succeeded in clucking and cackling like a chicken when one of the others laid an egg.
And then one day, a large shadow appeared over the chicken farm in Athenry. Iolar and the other chickens paused momentarily from scratching and looked up to see a majestic bird glide over the farm.
‘What’s that’ said Iolar in awe.
‘That’s an eagle’ said one of the elder and wiser chickens.
‘Wow. I’d give anything to fly and soar like that’ said Iolar.
‘You can’t’ said another older and wiser chicken.
‘You’re a chicken, and chickens can’t fly. That there is the king of all birds. Now put your head down lest the eagle see you and take you away.’
Iolar dutifully began to scratch the ground again but couldn’t take her mind of the spectacular specimen she had just seen.
Some days after, the big eagle happened to be cruising the vicinity of the farm again, and with the aid of his ‘eagle eye’ he was stunned to see what he perceived to be the cutest eagle he’d ever seen – hanging out with a bunch of chickens. He surged earthwards with such velocity that the chickens scarcely had time to make the safety of the chicken coop.
Alas, not Iolar. She was so enthralled by the power and splendour of the eagle that she stood transfixed and rooted to the ground.
‘What are you doing here?’ asked the big eagle curiously but gently.
‘What are you getting at?’ replied Iolar with false bravado.
‘What are you doing hanging out with a bunch of chickens?’
‘I am a chicken. They are my friends. They are my family. They took me in when I was separated from my mother. They’ve taught me everything I know.’ said Iolar defiantly.
‘You’re not a chicken. You’re an eagle. You’re the king of all birds. From Caesar to Hitler you are revered as the ultimate symbol of power. You belong in the sky, not in the dirt.’
‘Nonsense’ shrieked Iolar. ‘I’m no eagle. I can’t even fly.’
‘You can’t fly because you’ve never tried, and you’ve never been coached by someone who can. Come with me to the cliff at the edge of the farm and I’ll teach you to fly like an eagle.’
From the recesses of the chicken coop Iolar heard a rising cacophony of chicken speak from the other chickens.
‘Don’t listen to him’ chorused the frenetic chickens. ‘He’s a lier, a spoofer and a womaniser. If you go with him you’ll never come back. If you jump from that cliff you’ll surely die. Stay with us here where everything is cosy and safe.’
Iolar looked back at her adopted family and friends and tears welled up in her eyes of amber gold. She thought of all the great times she had scratching in the dirt and scurrying away from Ronan when he tried to tuck them in at night safe from the fox.
But deep within her spirit was a haunting calling. A calling to be more. To do more. To have more. To fly – who knows, even to soar.
She bravely gave the other chickens the wings up and followed the older eagle out of the farmyard and up to the cliff.
At the cliff summit, the older eagle caringly put it’s wing around Iolars graceful shoulders and pointed out all the wonders of an eagles world. To the north was Croagh Patrick and the Twelve Pins; to the south were the majestic peaks of the Magillicuddy Reeks; and out to the west were the three Aran Islands glistening and gleaming in the warm summer sun. Iolar felt an intense stirring in her loins.
Just then the older eagle jumped – and effortlessly glided on a series of invisible thermals that powerfully supported his body. Iolar marvelled at such unadulterated freedom and dominion over all it purveyed and dearly wished to do likewise.
She looked down however, and all she saw were the sharp and treacherous rocks hundreds of feet below. She heard once again, the clarion cry of the other chickens squawking ‘if you jump from that cliff you’ll surely die.’
‘Look to the sun, throw your heart over the cliff and let me guide you every flap of the way’ said the older eagle encouragingly.
And she did. And as she soared into the heavens her triumphant cry reverberated joyously around the walls of the chicken coop in Athenry.
* * * * * * *
Beliefs are to your mind what software is to your computer. They are the programmes that condition and predicate your entire destiny.
And your beliefs are fashioned and fossilised in the ‘chicken yards’ of your life and by the people you associate with most.
If you ever believed that you’re not old enough, smart enough, good looking enough – then it’s quite likely you’ve been got at by ‘chicken yard beliefs’.
It’s a fascinating fact of life that genetically we are born to win but quickly become programmed to lose – in the ‘chicken yards of life.’ So many people realise too late in the day that they really were eagles all along – living with chickens.
The thing is, as Zig Ziglar reminded us, that you’ll never soar with the eagles if you continue to scratch with the chickens. It’s your choice.