Maybe Trevor Weekes was trying to make amends for a childhood attempt to fly that ended when he crashed through the roof of the family chicken coop and scared the hens out of two weeks' production.
Maybe it was the quiet, uplifting influence of his fine feathered friends, Cluck Gable and Gregory Peck. Whatever inspired him, artist, writer and felony punster Weekes has scratched out a place in poultry posterity with his beautifully illustrated, quirkily written and odder than all get-out little book, "The Teach Your Chicken to Fly Training Manual."
Why a book about flying fowl?
"I think it was a love of chickens," Weekes explained in a telephone interview from New South Wales, Australia, where he lives with his wife and three children. "They've always fascinated me, chickens. They're so mechanical the way they jerk around the yard."
And then there is the other explanation.
"I always have ideas, and some are more bizarre than others."
One of the guiding forces behind the book was a desire to make amends for that childhood incident when his chickens came home to roost only to discover that their perches had been demolished by his ill-judged attempt at flight.
He brooded on the incident for years, he says. "There was a lot of guilt." But then he came up with an idea to make amends, a step-by-step guide that would help barnyard strollers fly the coop and move a few notches up the evolutionary pecking order.
The instructions are nothing if not thorough. There are training regimens. There are Da Vinci-style drawings of chickens strapped into flying harnesses and other apparatus. There are scale models of cities and towns--the idea being to suspend a chicken over them and get it used to the idea of flying over occupied territory.
And there are photographs of the celebrated first fowl in flight, Gregory Peck, a remarkably cool bird.
Wing massage, the motorized backpack, pullet proverbs--"Better to soar than be plucked"--all are covered in this handbook on how to egg on the chicken-hearted flyer.
The 36-page hard cover, which sells for $9.95 and was recently published in the United States by Berkeley-based Ten Speed Press, is not Weekes' only work.
He also has published a book on "The Art of Fowlconry," printed in a limited edition in Australia.
A third book in the works, detailing the adventures of Cluck Gable, a plucky carrier chicken, is currently in limbo at Weekes' Australian publisher, who fears it would lay an egg.
"It's so silly, he thinks we can't do anything with this," he confessed.
Balking publishers aren't the only hazards facing a man who bases a lot of his work on "big fibs." Some readers have taken him to task for cruelty to chickens. Others have asked for advice on coaxing capons aloft.
"That's the sort of thing that happens with my book," he said. "Interviews that I've done in Australia have been done seriously, and it's been extremely hard to keep a straight face."
Weekes said he's not trying to con his audience, he just wants to see what will happen when fanciful notions are given the authority of being typeset in black and white.
"The safety net for me is not many people have my address," he added. At least one member of his audience was too wily to fall for the chicken caper.
Ralph Ernst, a poultry specialist affiliated with the University of California at Davis, said he happened across the manual in a bookstore recently and was intrigued enough to skim a few pages.
He thought it was "a little pointless," but chuckled at the elaborate instructions.
Actually, Ernst points out, some breeds of chickens fly pretty well, although he cautioned: "They're not going to be eagles, now."
When chickens do take to the air, it tends to be in a rapid burst, good for getting up to a roost, but not much good for long-distance flying.
Some breeds are just too top-heavy for successful flight, a result of the meat-eater's quest for chesty chickens.
Weeks, 44, teaches art at the University of Newcastle, and says he's "the only lecturer who's been asked to leave a room because of my bad puns."
He hopes his work will soon have chickens soaring to new heights, come fair weather or foul.
In return, he asks for little. Chicken feed, really.
"I don't want laughter or applause; the groan is enough."