Editor’s Note: In Solo Notes in the March issue of  POB, Lee Spurgeon mentioned one of his unforgettable stories from his surveying career. Here is his somewhat fictionalized recounting of the incident, fluffed up a little for entertainment value.

Spoiler alert: I feel an obligation to warn you that this story has a tragic ending, so if you are prone to blanch at the unpleasant things in life, perhaps this story isn’t for you. We will wait while you make an exit.

Okay, now on with the story which is based on true events. By true events, I mean it in the Hollywood sense of the word — most everything is completely made up. 

Our tale of woe begins in a quiet Portland neighborhood where two families, the Mortons and the Pisiczks (not their real names) have lived next to each other for several decades. They got along well. They looked after each other. They remembered each other’s birthdays, and they generally behaved as well as any neighbors in a 1950s sitcom should. 

Common Boundary, Common Bond

The neighbors also knew their common boundary line was not where it was supposed to be. The plat map of their subdivision showed that the common line between the two properties was supposed to be at a 90-degree angle to the street, but the occupation line, which is based on shrubberies and who mowed what, angled into the Mortons’ property from the street. The Mortons were more than happy to be accommodating neighbors for the sake of neighborhood peace, and it was never a big issue until Mrs. Morton needed to care for her elderly mother and decided to sell the house and move to Arizona. 

The Mortons thought it was important to correct the boundary problem so that they wouldn’t have to pass the problem on to the buyers. So far, this almost seems too good to be true, but there really are people out there who are decent citizens and who spend more than a little time trying to do the right thing at all times.

The Mortons talked to the Pisiczks and they agreed to split the cost of a survey and that everyone would abide by the actual survey line. This is where I enter the story. My company was hired, and after getting signed work orders and a deposit, we went out to investigate what exactly was going on with the common boundary line. 

The field crews discovered that the actual boundary line was much further into the Morton’s property than anyone had imagined, but a deal is a deal. We set monuments, and both parties agreed to the new boundary — except for one minor problem.

The Chicken Comes First

roosterLying over the new boundary line was a chicken coop, which was the residence of a single rooster named Jim. Jim isn’t the real name of the rooster — the real name is actually Cogburn — but we’ll call him Jim to protect his real identity. 

Jim was an accidental Easter pet that had lived with the Pisiczks for many years. The Pisiczks felt that Jim would be upset if his long-standing home were simply picked up and moved over to accommodate the corrected boundary. The Mortons agreed that Jim’s feelings should be taken into account, so they called me up and asked about ways in which the boundary could be established, while still taking into consideration the feelings and sensitivities of Jim.

For those of you who were raised on a farm, the dispute would have been settled over a chicken dinner. Also, if you have lived on a farm, you will know that worrying about the feelings of a chicken is a rather frivolous affair because chickens have no feelings. If one were to program a chicken, this is what the programming flow chart would look like:

programming a chicken

(Note that a rooster has three extra lines of code, but to keep a G rating and since this is a family-friendly magazine, we will just have to move on without mentioning it.) Also, if you would please note that nowhere in the programming of a chicken is there anything that even closely resembles feelings and sensitivities. A chicken doesn’t love you and, by virtue of some psychological principle I heard from Oprah, you cannot love a chicken. But apparently the standard chicken operating system is only for rural chickens and does not apply to much more sophisticated city chickens who more closely resemble Disney characters. Or so I’m told.

A Chance to Make History

After looking at all the options for accommodating Jim, the parties agreed that the best option was for an easement that would expire at the end of the life of the chicken. When I talked to Bob, a colleague of mine, about the chicken easement, he suggested that a license would be more appropriate. (Bob is not his real name. His real name is John Thatcher, but John wisely decided he didn’t want anything to do with a chicken easement, so I will respect his wishes and not mention him at all.) WARNING: EDUCATIONAL CONTENT AHEAD! The difference between a license and an easement is that a license is a contract between specific individuals over the use of a piece of land, and an easement is a contract for the use of a piece of land that runs with the land. I immediately rejected the idea of a license because… well, because of chicken easement! I mean, who cares about a contract that isn’t going to get filed and be a part of the permanent deed records of Multnomah County when you can be the proud author of the chicken easement? 

See what I’m getting at? How many people in the entire state, and possibly the entire country, and maybe even the entire world, have ever written and filed a chicken easement? No one has, is my best guess. It would be a first in the history of land surveying. This is going to be my Magnum Opus, the greatest work of my career, the defining moment that would distinguish me from all of the other surveyors on the planet. The cruel world could take everything else away from me, but I would still be the world’s first and foremost expert on chicken easements.

So, a chicken easement needs to be written and the legal description of the land itself is something any surveyor can write, but the real tricky part is how to uniquely describe a chicken so that everyone would know exactly which chicken needed to die before the easement was extinguished. 

I suppose that the legal description of the chicken itself needed to have the same standards of care that were required for a legal description for the land. It had to unambiguously describe one and only one chicken. Conceivably, the Pisiczks, their heirs, successors or assigns could sneak in a counterfeit chicken if they just weren’t feeling it in terms of moving the chicken coop. And really, how hard can it be to uniquely describe a chicken? As it turns out, really, really hard.

According to the internet, there are roughly 50 billion chickens pecking their way out of a shell every year. If the average chicken has a lifespan of six to 12 years, we are looking at somewhere between 300 billion to 600 billion chickens on this planet. Since half are hens and half are roosters, that narrows it down to 150 billion to 300 billion roosters. Jim is also a Rhode Island Red, which also reduces the number down to around 300 million. So at this point, we are nowhere near getting the number down to one unique chicken, and I am running out of ideas. Time to call in the experts.

roosterThe phone call went something like this: “American Poultry Foundation. How may I help you?” 

“Thanks for taking my call. I am a land surveyor, and I need to precisely and uniquely describe a single chicken for an easement. I wonder if there is some system for identifying chickens?”

Click. Must have gotten disconnected, lucky for me I have speed dial.

“American Poultry Foundation. How may I help you?” 

"I’m sorry; we must have been disconnected. I was asking about describing and identifying a single chicken.”

“See here, mister. I can see through your shenanigans. You aren’t fooling anyone. We know you are from the American Beef Federation, and we are tired of your pranks. Chickens are still a valuable commodity, even if you can buy one for $2.15 at the Cackle Hatchery. [True story] Just because we don’t brand chickens doesn’t mean we are inferior to the cattle industry, so we can do without your constant harassment and condescension! Goodbye, and stop calling us and wasting our time!” Click.

That didn’t go as well as I had hoped it would. I guess I am on my own on this one. Perhaps a call to the Pisiczks would be useful. 

Mrs. Pisiczks did offer one nugget of information: Cogburn was named Cogburn because he walked like John Wayne. Okay, that is definitely going into the description, or at least it was until I checked out videos on YouTube of John Wayne walking and chickens walking. It soon became obvious that all chickens walk like John Wayne. That was no help at all. 

A phone call to the County Recorder let me know that fingerprinting the chicken or a photograph of the chicken was not possible because of concerns for reproduction quality. Another dead-end. Where does one go from here?

Disaster Stikes

Nowhere. That is where it went. I got the phone call no one wanted to receive. Jim had passed on. Mrs. Pisiczks was absolutely sure he was dead. No CPR was given. No resuscitation was attempted. It was truly a catastrophe in line with having a goat eat the Mona Lisa, painting the Sistine Chapel a nice neutral beige, or when they wrote in that annoying Scrappy Doo and ruined one of the best television shows in human history. 

No chicken easement means my moment for surveying greatness was over. There will never be another opportunity like that in my lifetime. A true tragedy.

Oh, and Cogburn dying. That was sad as well. I loved that chicken and he loved me too.