The Common Good
December 2011

Chicken Run

by Ed Spivey Jr. | December 2011

Tarantulas are not insects. They're arachnids. Really big ones.

After four trips to Honduras—enough time to meet the rigorous standards of scientific data gathering—I can finally conclude that roosters do not crow to greet the dawn, except by coincidence. It turns out they also crow the minute before dawn, and the minute after, and subsequently every minute for the rest of the day.

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I observed this phenomenon mainly during the early morning hours, when most humans would expect a few hours of invigorating sleep. My bedroom window was above the local meeting place for area roosters who, unlike their American kindred, do not start their day on a rooftop, silhouetted by the rising sun, before providing the stern but compassionate guidance their broods depend on. Nope. They mainly just hang out and crow. Repeatedly.

Sadly, I saw many young chickens wandering around who clearly could have benefited from adult leadership. But their long-suffering mothers were too harried to provide it, so the young chicks lacked the role models so critical to today’s youth. So, after much study, I must reluctantly conclude that Honduran roosters have no observable domestic skills or duties.

This is not one of those “theories” like gravity or evolution, which scientists on the Kansas school board have responsibly debunked. No, this is objective fact. I know this because, like Jane Goodall and her mountain gorillas, I “lived among them” for a whole week. They emitted a constant annoying background noise—similar to the music of Enya—that provided the soundtrack to each evening’s sleeplessness.

They could have done something more productive, such as pecking sense into the local tarantula population, although I realize this is a long shot, since tarantulas have no natural enemies except military-grade munitions.

I mention this because early in my visit I observed an adult tarantula crawling up an interior wall of my place of residence. As you may know, tarantulas are members of the arachnid family, although they differ from others of their species by being the size of a small cow. I had earlier seen spiders in the shower, but felt no significant concern, my mind being more occupied by the wire connecting the shower head to a nearby electrical outlet. (Despite being a poor country, Honduras has bathroom technology more advanced than our own. Hot water is supplied instantly by a heater built into the shower head and, depending on the skills of the unlicensed electrician who installed it, provides a surprisingly pleasant shower with only a 30 percent chance that it will be your last.)

To be concerned about most types of bugs in the shower, I would have to see many of them, and on several occasions. But with tarantulas, even a single sighting makes a strong impression. It focuses the mind. The fact that I did not see the tarantula again for the remainder of my visit had no effect on my preoccupation that on any given morning I would be found in my bed with bite marks covering my bloodlessly pale and withered body.

But enough about how I look in beach wear. On the bright side, sharing a house with a dangerous arachnid provides a curative for nights when I struggled to get sleep. With tarantulas you give up on sleep altogether. Problem solved.

I would lay in bed with my eyes open, the room bathed in the light of every available lamp, with my hand gripping the baseball bat my host had thoughtfully provided. This was the same host that had casually mentioned the room’s last occupant had been stung by a scorpion. Twice. But it was a young scorpion, she assured me, and death only comes from the stings of adult scorpions, which I was pretty sure that young scorpion had become by then. (Scorpions, by the way, are also members of the arachnid family, a family that has a body count similar to the Sopranos, but with fewer Emmys.)

At least I think my host was talking about scorpions. My Spanish is a bit imperfect. In fact, when I later attempted to compliment her for keeping a great kitchen, she thanked me, but then pointed out she didn’t have a pig, much less a fat one.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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