Of gourmet roosters and canine weather forecasters

A short ride on the cross-country trolley line took me to visit Grampy on the old family farm, but after I got off the car I had to walk two miles through the woods. Grampy lived alone, and when I walked in he always greeted me with the same words: "Oh, Johnny-boy, it gets so lonesome here!"

On the many times I came to cheer him up I got much insight into the science of meteorology, which is the topic for this morning. Class will start with the Buff Orpington rooster that liked horseradish. He was a stately bird: Although he stood only 10 hands high, he thought he was much larger.

The Orpington breed of domesticated poultry originated in Orpington, Kent, England, but there is nothing strange about an Orpington rooster in charge of a Maine barnyard. In the days of long voyages by Downeast sailing vessels, it was customary to keep a cage of hens aboard for fresh eggs and an occasional stew.

The birds were in the care of the cook, and he would go ashore in ports of call to replenish as needed. In this way, every known breed of domesticated fowl came home to Maine.

Grampy liked horseradish and made his own by grinding roots he grew in his barnyard and lubricating it lavishly with 3-year-old cider vinegar. When Grampy used it to lend assistance to his food, having lunch with him was palpably pyrotechnical.

Now this Buff Orpington rooster would wander up from the barnyard and leap to the sill of the kitchen window behind which Grampy was eating. Then Grampy would lift the window and they would exchange pleasantries.

Then the custom developed whereby Grampy would pass a morsel of food to Buzzbung, as he called his rooster, and Buzzbung would express his gratitude and partake. This made a happy companionship until one morning Grampy handed Buzzbung a bit of breakfast bacon on which he had smeared a dollop of horseradish.

Until that moment, Buzzbung was unaware of any such thing as horseradish. I was not there at the time, but Grampy told me nothing happened for three-quarters of a second. Then Buzzbung made a squawk and went straight up in the air for 3-1/2 miles.

The rooster's remarks, Grampy said, became thinner as he attained altitude and distance, but gained again as he began to come down. He was already running hard when he returned to earth and he kept on running up into the far woods. Grampy told me this all happened with such great speed that he had no time to be sorry for his inadvertent abuse, but it didn't matter as Buzzbung appeared not to mind and returned to the windowsill the next morning.

After that, he wouldn't touch a bite unless it had horseradish. In this way breakfast with Grampy became like watching the fire-eating act at the circus. I include all the details to ready you for what comes next.

I was visiting Grampy and we were having a fine time. Grampy had opened the window and Buzzbung was poised for business. The glorious orient sun beamed in. All was lovely and serene. It would be a beautiful day. Then Grampy said, "Gonna rain!"

The sun suddenly went behind clouds and the faint rustle of daybreak air freshened southeast and dampness was in the window. At the first drop of rain, Buzzbung scooted for the barn between drops. It was raining hard when we took our dishes to the sink.

"Grampy, how'd you know 'twould rain?" "Neighbor's dog eatin' grass."

Around 1870, you'd find a Massachusetts man under the name of Josh Billings who, in his almanac's long-range weather forecasts, would say, "P'aps rain, p'aps not." This was considered funny and probably is.

Last night on my TV, I watched a high-priced meteorologist aided by satellites, systems, and all modern scientific gimcracks and computers. And before he quit, he said, "So we'll just have to wait and see." Which means, I think, that we are still halfway between "p'aps" and "p'aps not." We can reasonably suggest that television needs a neighbor who owns a dog.

My Grampy also told us that on a lowery morning when you have hay in the coil, it's safe to spread it if you can see enough blue sky to make a Dutchman a pair of pants. Another time, Grampy gave me some insight as to why such things make sense. We'd been setting out tomato plants, and he said, "Johnny-boy, back o' the barn pump find a tin can I keep there. Dig some worms in the rhubarb, and we'll catch breakfast in Potter's brook." So we did, and it didn't take long.

"Grampy, how'd you know the trout were biting?"

"The apple buds opened today."

"How would the trout know that?"

"Well, one thing leads to another, and nature tells you, if you listen. It was a fine day to put in the tomato plants, and it also started the apple blossoms. Didn't you notice the bees were busy? And the same conditions made the flies hatch along Captain Potter's brook. The bees like apple blossoms, and the trout like flies. You've just about got the whole story about everything."

Grampy never did tell me why a dog eats grass.

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