A Castle with Peacocks
The novels of Thomas Hardy tend to start and end with a character traveling along a road. I thought of this each time I ventured outside the castle in Franken, Germany, where I spent last week doing yoga and watching peacocks. During one of my walks, I sat down at a crossroads along the approach to the castle, pausing and wondering which way I should go next.
Paths converge and diverge. The road that rises up to meet you might lead you farther afield. Doors and gates that open and reveal secret gardens and other enticing sights may suddenly close with a bang behind you, blown shut by the mischievous wind. How many times did I walk by the castle’s vegetable garden, wondering when the splendid ruby Swiss chard would land on my dinner plate? After several days of fervent wishing, I was finally treated to a delicious chard quiche for lunch.
As you approach the castle, wheat fields give way to an orchard and the vegetable garden before you enter a long avenue sheltered by trees. Each time I looked down it in the direction of the outside world, I heard the sound of horse hooves and saw a coach rapidly approaching the castle. What was it like to arrive here in centuries past? What went through the mind of poet, translator, and professor of Asian languages Friedrich Rückert as he came for a visit in the nineteenth century?
The rain created a rather dreamy atmosphere. One morning I looked out my window at the back courtyard and was greeted by mist rolling in. Unlike in the Middle Ages or Renaissance, it was warm and dry inside. I loved walking up and down the spiral staircase, which was housed in a tower and whose wooden steps delighted my bare feet. The many windows let in ample light, and there were flowers and statues and other treasures to discover on every windowsill.
The most fascinating sight, however, was the peacock show, performed live every day all day. Like with storks, my appreciation of peacocks dates back to my years in Poland, where I enjoyed watching them strut around Lazienki Park in Warsaw. Schloss Eggenberg here in Graz is also populated by peafowl (peacock just refers to the male; a female is technically a peahen). The main castle courtyard is the home to two males, two females, and five chicks. While I knew that peacocks can fly and like to hang out in trees, I had never seen a peahen with her chicks. When the chicks are two weeks old, they are able to fly and huddle under their mother’s feathers during the night, when peafowl roost in trees to protect themselves from predators. The chicks I observed were all old enough to seek shelter in the branches of a tree.
There are two species of peacocks, the Indian peacock (Pavo cristatus) most commonly encountered in the zoos and parks of Europe and the green peacock (Pavo muticus). Whereas the Indian peahen is a dull brown so as better to camouflage herself and her chicks, the Indian peacock is the Prince of the avian world. Instead of purple velvet and lace, he sports shimmering blue feathers, zebra striped feathers, scale patterned feathers, feathers with a round pattern reminiscent of eyes called ocelli, and tan feathers – at the same time. This crazy color combination is all about looking pretty to attract the opposite sex.
Then there is the peacock’s call. When a peacock cries, I am struck by the same sense of joy and urge to smile as when I hear a Canada goose honk. Wake up, open your eyes, notice the beauty around you, the peacock says. Since it is the national bird of India, it seems appropriate that my week of yoga was accompanied by these representatives of the pheasant family. I had the luck to spy a feather with an ocellus in the courtyard.
Keep your eyes open for a beautiful feather of your own!