Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Shoulder to Land On

There was an afternoon, an Easter Sunday, I believe, when I was 20. I'd taken my bike out for a long ride around Pocatello, across her green foothills, pedaling through historic Old Town, around her winding and circuitous edges, to all the places I'd grown accustomed to seeing through the windshield of Cleo, my car rather than out in the open. I was pedaling up the long line of Pocatello Creek Road, through the neighborhood where I'd grown up. It was a lovely day. The Mormon churchgoers were out in their shiny new clothes, the heathens were mowing their lawns or washing their cars, and I had the street mostly to myself. There was no such thing as iPods and I didn't own a Walkman so I could hear the sounds of the world around me: the birds in the willows along the creek, the barking of the dogs, the laughter of children from their backyards, the rush of hose water and slop of soapy sponges on cars, the voice of a small boy telling his father, "Daddy, look at that bird attacking that man on the bike."

I'd been staring down at the road beneath my front tire, reveling in the feel of my legs working the hill, the crunch of the loose gravel under my tires, the sound of my heart in my ears. That's when I noticed the large bird-shaped shadow descend upon me, it's wings spread wide, it's body hovering directly over and behind mine. I turned just in time to hear it scream and rush at me, snagging my hat and tearing it from my head. I nearly lost control of the bike as I ducked and swerved out of the way. I watched the crow, a big one, shiny and black, turn effortlessly and come at me again, this time from the front, its body swooping straight toward my face, its eyes locked on mine, a scream rising from its throat. I swerved again, put my foot down, yanked hard on the handlebars and turned around. 

"Hurry!" the voice of a man called from his carport. "Get over here!" I pedaled across the street and skidded to a stop directly in front of he and his small son. "That was close," he marveled. "She nearly got you!"

"What the hell..." I stammered through my heavy breaths. "Why...."

"She's been doing it to people all morning. Even a couple of cars. We figure she's got a nest up there somewhere." His eyes scanned the line of trees across the street. "You want some water?"

I nodded as he hurried inside, got a glass of cold water, and returned. I guzzled it down, spilling half of it on my bare chest, barely able to hold the glass in my adrenaline-shaking hands. When I finished I handed it back to him.

"You can stay as long as you like, but I think she's gone. You could make a break for it."

And so I did, pedaling as fast as I could up into the mountains, my head turning this way and that as I kept a look-out for an attack that never came.

This morning I awoke early. There were errands to run and I needed to take my car in for a checkup. There wasn't time to take Duncan on our Saturday morning walk around the lake, so we crossed the street and strolled down the trail that winds through the prairie dog metropolis along the greenway. The birds were loud in the trees and the traffic hadn't picked up on Quincy where they're doing the roadwork, so everything was perfect. Despite tomorrow's imminent snow and days of cold weather ahead of us, the sun was bright and warm and I was enjoying sharing that moment with Roo.

And that's when I saw the shadow. I didn't have much time to react because no sooner had I seen it, and heard the rush of a body through the air, than I felt the soft weight strike my shoulder and stop. I'd ducked a little but when I turned my head I saw the grackle standing on my shoulder, perched as though I was the most natural place in the world to alight. Duncan, who'd also startled, turned and saw the bird, big and black, sitting inches from my face. His eyes widened and he moved toward me. The bird and I stared at one another for what felt like a very long time, me in what surely looked like shock and idiocy, it with what I can only describe as calm trust. It adjusted itself as I stood up, stepped back and forth, its soft nails clinging to my shirt tightly, but not enough to pinch. It was close enough that it could have plucked my eye out had it wanted. Instead, it screeched that rusty swing-set call, hopped forward, fluttered its wings very lightly, and touched down on Dunc's back. Roo jumped sideways, pulling the leash from my hand, and shook the bird loose. It hopped down in the long grass in front of him and allowed him to sniff its back. It screeched again, looked back at me, and then flew away as though there was nothing out of the ordinary, just another Saturday morning adventure. My heart was racing in my chest and Duncan was on full alert, his eyes alternately scanning the grass where it had landed and the trees above us where the grackle had vanished. After a few moments he barked and wagged his tail, I laughed, and we continued on our way, the soft weight of the grackle forever remembered by my shoulder.

*Please leave a comment. They're like lovely little morsels. Thanks!


David said...

"A bird on the shoulder is worth..."

Oh, wait...

Anyway, a lovely avian surprise!

Somewhere, Alfred Hitchcock is raising an eyebrow.


NodakJack said...

Birds would land on your grandpa too. Loved this story. Good boy!

Kevi said...

I will be reading this with the boys today. Hilarious!