The handsome creature arrived as my grief of all griefs had begun. I was inconsolable about my son Joshua’s unexpected death. I was open to – maybe even eager for distractions from my suffocating sorrow. This new visitor became my companion during the first phase of my mourning. And the distraction he provided filled many hours over the coming months.
“He” was a stunning ring-necked Chinese Pheasant. He strutted into our yard after hopping over the wobbly wire fence that separates our neighbor’s pasture from our more tamed back yard. The bird announced his arrival into our garden with a shriek, almost as if he were in pain. It sounded like MY pain FELT. Although our visitor’s voice was shrill, he was a fowl of remarkable beauty. But the little tufts sticking out of his head gave him the persona of a cocky little devil and a creature maybe to be feared.
Spring was looming and Mr. Pheasant and I were looking forward to the rewards of the approaching season. Gardening any time the weather permitted became my favorite grief-distracting passion. I was preparing our grounds for a memorial event for my son. The bird was in search of a suitable mate.
Obstacles would hinder each of us from our seasonal pursuits…
The pheasant habitat in our neighborhood was shrinking. A new home was replacing the tangle of gigantic blackberry brambles behind us. In the mornings, the workers would arrive to continue construction and I would watch and note their progress, as I sipped coffee by my window. I would see my bird companion stalking about, too. He was on a quest for the perfect (or more likely, any) hen.
We put out sunflower seeds and cracked corn kernels for many smaller bird friends. Our large new visitor liked this feed just fine, too. And as Spring marched on, he found a girlfriend at long last! We watched with anticipation when we saw a female join him in Bob’s pasture. First our male hopped over and nibbled our treats, and his new lady friend followed when it looked safe. The hen soon spooked and took off. Later, Bob reported seeing a brutal and clumsy mating attempt in his field. The new girlfriend was never seen again.
Mr. Bird was starting to get cranky. Without appropriate habitat, and his lack-luster performance in the romance department, he was probably out of luck for the mating season. He took to blaming the entire neighborhood for this great misfortune.
I was digging in the garden, pulling weeds and I saw my new companion approaching and squawking. He lurched through the bottom of the fence, stepped determinedly, and then lunged directly AT me! Thank heavens for my little female tigress-hearted cat, Tori. She jumped out from nowhere and flew at him. The bird shrieked, flapped his wings frantically and glided a short distance from our area. Similar scenarios played out for days, then weeks.
The pheasant from hell was getting more and more brazen.
My three of my cats were more and more intrigued and entertained by him.
And I was finding it more and more difficult to garden without threat of attack!
These three cats typically do not have much use for each other. They worked together to ambush the bird. They triangulated, while the one out in front stalked and then pounced toward the pheasant. The bird, when he saw this first whiskered nemesis, changed his course only to end up almost in the clutches of another cat. This effective and fun strategy, as performed by my feline troupe, yielded results! Within a month the cats had plucked the pheasant’s most resplendent mottled tail plumage until his rump was nothing but bristles.
I learned to call for my cats when the evil devil bird was approaching. I’d hear his cries and watch in terror as he approached. I would call out, “Tori! … Kitties!” They came running. They were always eager to resume the sport of “Get the Bird!”
By mid Spring, our pheasant tale was neighborhood lore. The daunting fowl attacked our neighbor while he was digging. Without thinking, Bob whacked the bird with his shovel and knocked him out cold! Just as in the “Roadrunner” cartoon, the pheasant rose again, and was eager for more aggressions. When construction crews pulled up in their big trucks, I would watch grown men being dared by this fowl to just try to get out of their vehicles and work. A painter began painting the new house. He would stand on the back porch to have a smoke. The devil bird would perch on the edge of the deck and glare aggressively. The painter swung his booted foot, connected with the bird and lobbed him off into the air. I saw them repeat this ritual and neither of them ever seemed to tire of it! The creature had spurs on his feet – how could I forget to mention that? He backed me up and flew into me puncturing the back of my calf! And then he executed the same attack against Bob’s wife, Sue.
As the day for my son’s memorial neared, my husband wanted to mow the lawn. A mere power mower was no deterrent for our pheasant! As Russ pushed the mower back and forth across the lawn, my brother-in-law Tommy ran along beside, swinging a garden rake at the bird, to keep him from attacking.
As Summer approached, the bird was getting more anxious to prove what a great mate and protector he would be. He started to attack red, a color seen on the heads of potential competitor male pheasants. If we dared to wear something red, he viewed it as an invitation to attack. Russ’ red sweater (on Russ, inside our house) attracted attention through the window. The demon came across two properties to land on our deck railing and cry, glare and fly at the window which was protecting Russ!
I was starting to dread going outside to garden, for fear of attack…
My grief about Josh’s death had brought on a sullen dark mood. On a beautiful day, I decided to go for a reflective walk. As I approached the cemetery by the Church, a wolf-like dog approached toward me. As he wound his way through the headstones, I could see this dog was a stranger. I had an ethereal feeling about this animal and was not sure why he wanted to join me. We walked together along the coastline to the seawall, and I was surprised when he followed me on the trip back to my home. I went inside while the dog made himself comfortable on our deck. He looked thirsty, so I brought him a bowl of water.
Later I went outside to work in the garden. The big dog was waiting for me. After tiring of my work in the yard, I sat down with a cold beer to admire my abundant flowers. I relaxed and the dog settled in the shadow of my chair. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the devil bird sneaking along the back fence line to my next door neighbor’s. He marched through Arria’s yard and then headed straight across at me. I cried, “Oh, no!”
With surprising teamwork, the mysterious wolf-dog and my smallest cat took off after that demented bird. The three of them disappeared behind the nettles clump. In a matter of seconds, Tori emerged with pride and a mouthful of feathers. Then the wolf dog appeared, with his trophy – the rest of the bird. He ate it right there in the middle of our lawn.
I never saw the dog again.