Uninvited garden ornaments

When peacocks appeared in the neighborhood, everyone was delighted.

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    A peacock flaunts its plumage in a neighborhood in Clearwater, Florida.
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When I stepped outside early this morning, I didn't see a partridge in a pear tree, but I did see a peacock on my front lawn.

I kid you not. There was a large, plump peacock strutting about, pecking around for whatever it is peacocks eat.

I can't say that I was alarmed to see the bird. I live in a very eclectic, if indecorous neighborhood in my corner of Maine. In fact, it is the poorest neighborhood in my town. In the old days – up until about 40 years ago – the residents of my riverine neighborhood were held in disrepute by those up on "the hill" because of the jobs they performed (mostly millwork), the large clutches of children they had, and their reputation for being "rough around the edges."

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Things have changed since then, but reputations die hard, especially when it is legal here to have up to three broken-down cars in one's front yard – and given that a couple of my neighbors have availed themselves of this opportunity.

Which brings me back to the peacock. A few years back the owner of a local business built a large, striking home just down the street from me. It was the first house built here in who knows how many decades, and it was a doozy: white cedar with twin garages, an expansive deck and a large, curved picture window over the front door. The whole operation boasted a stunning view of the river. Who would have thought that the owner of such grandeur would be the one to introduce a peacock to our neighborhood?

Actually, the peacock was only the tip of the iceberg. All told, there were also two peahens, three sheep, and a flock of guinea hens. All but the sheep eventually ran off, spreading themselves out among the various backyards, like a wealth that was meant to be shared.

The thing is, my neighbors don't put much stock in appearances, and not one of them squawked about the sudden effusion of exotic livestock. Everyone thinks it's great.

This evening, in fact, one of the peahens flew up into the silver maple in my backyard. Within a twinkling the neighbors gathered, all of them chattering amiably away, wondering aloud if the peahen's owner, proffering a container of mealworms on the end of a long stick, would succeed in luring the bird back to earth. And then the peahen startled everyone when it let out a primal cry, a sort of avian heehaw of a call that echoed to the far hills. A moment later, the return call came – from the other side of the neighborhood. It was the male, the peacock. All of us listened, rapt, as the mates continued their discourse for another 10 minutes. Wonderful, wonderful.

This rather intricate and seemingly rambling story came to mind because a friend of mine who lived in a modest home in an interesting, friendly neighborhood not far from mine recently decided he needed to "upgrade" his lifestyle. And so he moved his family to a showcase neighborhood on the other side of town that never grew as neighborhoods do, piece by piece, but rather was planted en masse and then opened for business.

The homes are cavernous and structurally perfect, the lawns look as if they were sprayed on, and the streets are largely devoid of children. The only thing lacking is a gate and a uniformed sentinel. It is, in short, the kind of place where a neighborhood committee shows up to tell you there are dandelions on your lawn.

When my friend introduced me to his new neighborhood, pointing out its attributes with pride, he asked, "What do you think?"

I looked about for a few moments, gave it due consideration, and finally remarked, "No peacocks."

My friend made big eyes. "Peacocks?" he echoed. "You can't have peacocks here."

"Of course you can't," I told him. "And that's the problem." And then I threw him a mischievous look. "But it can be arranged. Just say the word."

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