A Veteran’s Journey Home

Steve Fuller

This month I considered reflecting on the situation in Ukraine, as most of my thoughts about being a veteran turn on the horrific scenes we are all witnessing and seemingly powerless to stop. My mind can wrap around the logic of the decisions being made just as my heart wants us to do more to stop the atrocities. I will save those reflections for later as I cannot quite get a grasp on the complexity of my thoughts and emotions without resorting to a rant that would not be productive to the conversation.  

Even so, a rant it might well have been until my day turned in the seconds it takes a dog to lunge and grab a ranging chicken in the clamp of its jaws. My normally attentive mind, aware of every movement of the dog, had wandered to a solution for avoiding the mud and attending to the filthy horse in the paddock. Then I saw which chicken he had in his mouth: the white hen my son had humorously named George, his beloved chicken, and ironically the chicken we bought the larger coop for to keep safe from coyotes over the winter. Every command and every effort to pry open the dog’s mouth proved vain attempts to save the bird.

Three years ago, I never could have imagined a chicken having so much sway over my emotions.  Anger at the dog battled anger at myself for being inattentive. My stomach sank knowing I had to tell my son that I had lost control of the dog and he had gotten George. It sank deeper when he cradled the chicken to the spot of her ceremonial burial next to the first chicken I lost. A crude ceremony that proved their importance to the human psyche as it put in my own head memories of the sadness I felt the day I lost my first chicken. 

In the end, there was a simple lesson for a sensitive man who has been healed by these animals that both infuriate me in the winter but also bring laughter and calm to my worst moments of anxiety. Life moves on. My son, an equally sensitive young man who has been healed as much if not more than I, will learn the same lesson and forgive me, forgive the dog, and perhaps find a new special bond with the drake that his sister gave him as a thoughtful act to cheer him.  

But that chicken jump started a journey for him and will hold a special place in my heart. We had spent the weekend exploring college campuses together – something that in my worst moments I thought unimaginable last year when he moved in with us. How far he has come in these months with us – solving problems for all the animals throughout the winter, adjusting to this house’s rules and dynamics, making his room here his new home. As he tossed the first shovel of dirt onto his friend, I felt proud.  

Steve Fuller retired from the U.S. Navy in 2019 after nearly 27 years of service serving at sea on ships as small as frigates and as large as aircraft carriers. A visit to the Driftless and a desire for a radical course change brought him home to Wisconsin where he lives on a small parcel of land with chickens and horses and … more to come! He has been a creative writer since he first saw U2 perform in Live Aid, and now as he returns home after a life of service, he looks forward to sharing more of his writing with willing readers.