Teenage chickens and teenage humans look somewhat alike.
As babies, both species are adorable. As adults, there is beauty, strength, character and even personality and humor in chickens, just as there is with us.
Every new crop of teenagers, however, does its darndest to look different. With chickens as with humans, it's a struggle to not be "baby cute" any longer, and to certainly not look like those old fogeys who produced the newest generations.
And so we see everything from piercings to hair dyes, to rolled-up cuffs and butt-crack displaying wasted waistlines, stuff that seems outlandish by comparison with what adults look like.
But as much as teenagers proclaim their determination to be different - they all look alike. A decade ago, nobody who was anybody - and with teenagers, being "anybody" is everything - would be caught dead without a deep curl distorting the brim of a baseball-style cap. Today, the brims must be perfectly straight, with no hint of curl.
All of them.
I pondered this anew Saturday as I stood in our garage, gazing down into a cardboard box that had originally held a dryer. The folks at Syktich TV & Appliance cheerfully parted with it a month ago, and I got creative with a box cutter and duct tape to make a suitable creche for some 14 chickens.
They are all hens - we are told. They are all buff Orpingtons - we are told. When they arrived as day-old peeps, they were indistinguishable balls of fluffy downy softness and cuteness.
By last weekend, they had become scrawny and scruffy. As peeps, they tucked their heads back into their bodies. As chicks, they peer outward and upward with elongated necks covered with shedding down and sprouting feather tips, looking for all the world like octogenarians at a dinner.
Their bodies aren't yet formed enough to verify gender with certitude, and the outer layer of feathers is a mixture of what is supposed to emerge - a pleasing, uniform tan - and brown, black and even red strands.
I am not the only person having this experience, of course. Many people get chicks as pets around Easter, which was about a month ago.
One other co-worker shares my dottiness about chickens as a hobby. In fact, Jim Nestlerode, our circulation manager, split his order of peeps with me so we could both revitalize our laying flocks of a dozen or two - and gain some home-grown, tasty stewing birds from those who aren't laying by September, when the new brood should be about ready.
We do josh each other a bit, but more often, every day in fact, our first exchange of conversation is apt to deal with the comparative progress of our growing birds. Time enough after that for inquiries into how last week's deliveries went or whether we need to buy some new display racks for the stores where our newspapers are on sale.
Come to think of it, a decade or two ago, when I was a parent of teenage boys or girls, it often happened that workday conversations occurred with co-workers whose children were classmates or of an age with my children.
And there was some mutual head-shaking and tongue-clucking over what we as parents perceived to be our teenagers' determined efforts to be different from the "old folks," and have "their" clothing or accessories. They never seemed to understand our mirth when we explained to them that they did indeed look different from us - but they all looked so much alike because they were all wearing the same different-from-us fashions that they were indistinguishable from each other.
I recall having had difficulty picking out our daughter from within the flighty, fluttering flocks of females-in-formative students when picking her up fromschool, from the mall, etc.
Last weekend, I noted the changing scruffiness of our adolescent chickens-in-formative groupings, but I confess that, unless I mark them with paint or with bands, I cannot tell one from another.
That will change. Though adult buff Orpingtons look quite a bit alike, it soon becomes obvious from behavior who is who in the pecking order, and in the "Look at me! I'm all atwitter!" categories.
But for now, what I see is indistinguishable groupiness, and what I hear is high-pitched chirpiness.
And neither species seems capable of being taught to pick up after itself.
Denny Bonavita is the editor and publisher of McLean Publishing Co. in west-central Pennsylvania, including the Courier-Express in DuBois.