In a small New Hampshire town, there was a man who had an absolute love for pheasants. The locals looked at him farcically as he was a brawny, rough-hewn truck driver who paradoxically spoke of the bird as if he were a highly-trained ornithologist. With a cigarette in his mouth and a beer in his hand, he could rattle off the scientific classification of each pheasant with great ease. Even the most erudite of bird-watchers had glazed-over eyes as they endured an endless monologue of information while suffering through secondary smoke.
One day, Butch decided he had enough of trucking and was ready to follow his dream. He was going to open the largest pheasant farm in America! He was going to have every species in the world, offering the birds a wonderful habitat with access to farm fields and vegetation for foraging. Butch was confident that his local town would appreciate the business as tourists would flock from all over the country to marvel at his creation.
Butch started his mission: He worked outside in the bitter winter cold to build his pheasant farm. He would take on extra trucking jobs to afford the purchase of another bird. He trained his family to give the maximum care and attention to his prized collection.
After a four-year journey, Butch had collected every species of pheasant and he was ready to open his farm. With great fanfare, he had his grand opening, and a sizable number of people from all over New England came to see his creation. Butch was ebullient as no one had ever seen, happily talking to the local press and television stations about his effort. He had achieved his dream.
Yet over the months, as spring eventually became fall, the number of visitors dwindled like the leaves on the trees. At first, he might get two hundred visitors a week, but the numbers consistently declined to the point where on a good week he might get a dozen passersby. He invested more money, thinking he needed a concession stand and more advertising, but this did not work. As Butch started to run out of money, he had to return to trucking and only opened the farm on weekends. While his farm was on the main state road to town, nothing he tried seemed to get people interested enough to stop.
Over the winter, a few of his birds died, which perhaps broke his heart more than losing a family member. Then tragedy struck, and a fire killed most of his collection. Butch withdrew from the community, never again to show the childlike happiness as on the day of his opening. Eventually, Butch’s family left him as he imploded, falling into serious depression and alcoholism.
A year and a half after the fire, a tourist came by to see the farm. She banged on the family house door to see if anyone was around, unaware that the farm had a tragic ending. Butch came to the door, drunk and slovenly.
“What is it?” he bellowed from behind the door.
“I came to see your farm. I am from Utah and I heard a lot about it,” replied the tourist. “What happened?”
The tourist got no response, but eventually she heard Butch sobbing. “Can I come in?” she asked gently.
After a couple of minutes Butch opened the door, unable to look the woman in the eyes. “I am sorry ma’am, we had a fire. It’s all gone.”
“Can I see what you tried to do? I bet I can imagine how impressive it was,” she said, with the most soothing and compassionate tone. Her somewhat magical presence comforted Butch as if it was a siren’s song. With self-loathing hindering his gait, he nevertheless agreed to show her the wreckage.
First Butch showed her a large charred pen encased in rusted chicken wire, but he immediately brushed off its importance so he could move on; his only goal was to quickly move through this pain. But the tourist would not let him go. Quickly she interjected with numerous questions about the birds, absolutely fascinated with his endeavors. After ten minutes, Butch realized that she was his complete match in understanding pheasants, loving the species as much as he did.
While Butch’s town appreciated his effort, they nevertheless thought his farm was quixotic. Unlike the tourist, townsfolk could not understand how magnificent and gargantuan Butch’s project was. For the first time in his life, Butch was having a conversation with someone who understood him, admiring his work with profound and genuine admiration. For the first time he felt loved for what he did. But such a unique sensation left him feeling exposed, and he could not contain his emotions. Butch collapsed to the ground, leaning against a burnt post and crying uncontrollably.
The tourist sat down next to him, quietly letting him be for a very long time. She sat very close to Butch, wanting him to know that she was not embarrassed or uncomfortable in the least with his behavior.
“I am such a Goddamn loser,” Butch eventually muttered. “What a failure.”
“Failure? Failure? Are you kidding me?” the woman beamed back. “Are you a loser for loving nature? Are you a failure for showing people how wonderfully diverse our planet is?”
“No, I guess not,” surrendered Butch after a long pause. “But I have nothing.”
“Oh, you are soooo wrong,” she said as she smiled, looking at the ground. “Until the fire you knew what you loved, and you loved what you knew.”
“So?” said Butch with an irritated voice.
The woman put her hand on his knee, knowing he would be startled enough to look right at her. “So, be who you were born to be,” she firmly decreed. “You were not meant to be a trucker; you were meant to be a scientist. You were not meant to be in small-town New Hampshire; you were meant to be in the world. Your intellect was not meant to be hidden in the woods, it was meant to shared – with children, with students, with different cultures!”
Gentle tears streamed down Butch’s face as he choked on his own breath. No one – not even his ex-wife – saw him for his potential. Everyone knew and liked the trucker, but truckers are solitary people who are never tied to home. They live and work in a metal box, perhaps only interacting with others at their next stop or over the phone. No one at home really knew Butch, not even his family. Yet, we cannot fully love what we do not know and we cannot fully know what we do not love. Butch was neither fully loved or known, and like many of us, he was too afraid to show the world who he was.
“Butch, I believe the more a person understands themselves, the more likely they will choose the right course in life. You are so blessed to actually know who you are. Now follow your path!” she said hugging him with all her strength. She held him and would not let him go, sitting quietly with him until the sun was almost gone.
Over the next year, Butch sold his house and land, never to return to the area again. For town residents, Butch’s story could have ended up as being one more collected memory, occasionally trotted out over the years for small-town gossip between locals. But this was not to be the case. Several years later, an important story finally made it into the local town paper. On the front page, the headline read “Former town resident discovers new bird species.”
(based on a true story)