Photograph by Garrit Vyn

Heathen

A GROUSE IS A BIRD. To grouse is to shoot grouse. To grumble is to grouse. A grouse is a reason for grumbling. A grouse grouse is a very good grouse. Grouse are ground-bound Galliformes. Grouse have feathered nostrils and dance at leks. Grouse grow toe feathers in winter to walk on snow. Grouse sport big crops and big gizzards. Male grouse drum, rattle, flutter, and flaunt brightly colored combs. Female grouse lay their clutch in a scrape. Grouselings hatch out in a yellow-brown down. The spruce grouse, the dusky grouse, the sooty grouse, the ruffed grouse, the black grouse, the Caucasian grouse, the red grouse, the hazel grouse, the Gunnison grouse, the sharp-tailed grouse, and the greater and lesser prairie chicken are some of the living grouse species. The now dead heath hen was once so common it was poor man’s food. The heath hen was the Thanksgiving bird, some say. The heath hen was one of the first birds Americans tried to save. The heath hen preservation bill was introduced by humans in 1791. Human opposition to the heath hen bill arose from a misreading of heath hen as heathen, of the bill as a bill to preserve Indians and heathens. Booming Ben, the last heath hen, was last seen on his traditional lekking grounds. Male grouse exhibit two types of lekking, typical lekking and exploded lekking. Exploded lekking occurs in areas where females have few resources. Booming Ben, the last heath hen, went to his lek early in the breeding season to dance and boom for female heath hens. In a world without them, Booming Ben did not boom but stood silent among crows. Traditional human dancers still dance the grouse dance that living grouse still dance in leks. The prairie chicken dance is one of the oldest human dances, a pact between the Grouse Nation and the Blackfoot. Breechcloth, feathered bustles, head roaches, and round bells round out the regalia of those who dance the grouse dance. More than a million lesser prairie chickens danced in the southern Great Plains prior to European colonization. Today, their numbers are lesser and few. The prairie chicken taught their lek dance to the Blackfoot after a Blackfoot killed a male grouse during his mating dance. Dance this dance to honor us or we will come back and kill you, said the Grouse Nation. A grouse is a bird. A grouse grouse is a very good grouse. A grouse is a reason for grumbling. To grumble is to grouse. To grouse is to shoot grouse. A heath hen is a grouse. A heathen is a bird. O

 

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