I don’t know if Barelas has ever been without roosters. In my imagination, chickens arrived here shortly after Don Pedro de Varela put roots into this soil in 1662 and have maintained a presence in Barelas ever since.
When we moved here 11 years ago, members of my family mentioned hearing roosters crowing every morning. (Even with my hearing aids, this is a sound I miss out on – for better or worse.) At first I thought this was yet another joke my kids were playing on their gullible hard of hearing mom; since we could see downtown Albuquerque from our backyard, it didn’t seem possible that roosters could be living nearby.
It turns out that in addition to cats and dogs, many of our neighbors also keep chickens and ducks. On occasion we’ve seen a pot-bellied pig cruising down 4th Street on a leash. And there’s Rooster, the neighborhood celebrity cat once featured in the Albuquerque Journal – an animal destined for identity confusion if I ever saw one.
Last spring, I noticed a bunch of chickens wandering up and down our street in the early morning, scratching for bugs and whatever else chickens eat. It turns out that they live several houses down the street, and every morning they get an hour or so of free range exercise – the avian equivalent of being let out of your cell for an hour of exercise in the yard, I suppose.
The rooster attached to this brood has considerably more liberty. Most days this winter, I sit on my front porch in the sunshine, working away on my laptop and waiting for The Rooster to show up.
You see, my next door neighbor, a gruff WWII veteran, has taken a liking to this bird. He leaves fresh water for him daily in a plastic margarine container in his parkway. His granddaughter and my daughter, Chicken Run fans both, have taken it upon themselves to keep The Rooster well supplied with bird seed and other delicacies, from melon rinds to hunks of aging Halloween pumpkin.
He’s a tough bird, and I’ll confess, a bit scary. Some mornings when I walk outside to retrieve my morning paper (now there’s an archaic ritual!), I look both ways to make sure he doesn’t sneak up on me. Trust me, there’s nothing more disconcerting than bending down to pick up the newspaper only to find yourself eye to eye with a rooster before you’ve had your morning coffee.
He’s pugnacious, too. Neighborhood cats stay out of his way, and though the local dogs bark at him, they back off when he swaggers over to their chain link fences. I used to worry that a dog or even a coyote from the bosque might snatch him up, but no more. I’m convinced this guy would come out ahead in a brawl. He’s a Barelas street rooster, after all.
You never know what kind of relationships you’ll develop when you move to a neighborhood. When we planted ourselves in Barelas, one of the things we liked most about it was the sense of community that reminded us of our childhoods. After a short time, I realized how rich this place was in people and stories, and I started collecting them the way my daughter collects rocks.
I figured bits and pieces of Barelas would emerge in my writing or lectures at some point, mixed up with tales of cowboying in Wyoming and waiting tables in Napa Valley. This community has taken hold of my life and thoughts in unpredictable ways: I could not have imagined upon my move to Barelas that a decade later I’d be blogging about a neighborhood rooster and wondering if he has a name.