That f'ing bird....
04/03/2010, 12:45 AM #
It was a seasons beginning much like this one. A warm day with sun and low humidity. The wind was a nuisance but not so much that it drove anyone indoors or away. In fact it was the stiff breeze from the south that had brought the new spring weather we were enjoying. Sure the trees and daffodils had begun to bloom but the weather had remained just cool enough to keep everyone inside until now.
The several warm days in a row after the long hard winter had lured all of us out to the lake for an impromptu Saturday barbecue and to enjoy some cold beers and horse shoes. A few of the fellows played catch with their baseballs and a couple of other guys had brought their rods for a bit of fishing. The girls all sat around the picnic tables in the pavilion where earlier we had all shared in the rapidly devoured foodstuffs.
A few cars sat at different locations with their speakers pulled out and set on top of the roofs to provide music for the occasion and of course they were all tuned to the same FM radio station. One of them was mine, it was my second car, a white Ford Gran Torino. It wasn’t the fastest car there but it was the fastest car that had not been purchased by someone’s daddy, and that situation made me a little bit more than proud.
Anyway, it wasn’t a big lake, to many who were more traveled it would have been deemed a large pond. But to us it was a really nice lake and it had all the amenities we could have wanted. A pavilion, cooking pits, a dock and a couple of well made horse shoe pits. Even a large field where a pick-up game of baseball or softball could be played.
A gravel road led away to another section of the park where restroom facilities were available for the girls while a wooded area offered the privacy we sought for ourselves. A few strategically located drums were set about to hold our trash and most of it actually made it inside of them. Of course as was normal for the times, cigarette butts and pull tabs littered the ground and were both more prevalent and invisible than the rapidly spreading dandelion blooms.
In the middle of the little lake, maybe about 3 or 4 hundred feet from shore a small gaggle of geese swam lazily in circles seemingly oblivious to the group of young people having a wonderful spring Saturday afternoon. Their white feathers reflecting the afternoon sunlight much like a Norman Rockwell painting. Small laps of water pushed by the strong breeze slapped at the mud and branches lining the shore.
There wasn’t a beach on this side of the lake, it was on the other side where rafts yet to be deployed for the summer still sat high and dry. Steel floats bared with dried moss hanging from their bottoms. Three in all, where teenagers and young adults would spend lazy summer afternoons trying to impress each other. The boys showing their taut muscular frames while the bronzed girls posed in their bathing suits as they tried to make each other jealous or attract the attentions of the preening young males. But that annual rite of summer was still a few months away and the beach area remained closed and abandoned.
The action was all on the other side of the lake for now. Our stereos filled the early spring air and the clink of horseshoes against poles set apart by careful measure with shout the occasional shout of triumph after each score.
All in all it was a picture perfect day. All of us young and in love with our lives and each other. Sure we were sometimes a little rowdy, that was just a healthy part of who we were. But none of us really ever caused any trouble for other people. Even Rick, the slightly oddball fellow that always hung around with us. He never seemed at ease and was always doing different things to impress everyone that didn’t really impress anyone. And this afternoon wouldn’t be any different.
As the day wore on into the early evening and the sun fell low in the horizon the pangs of the ever present hunger of youth began to once again take hold. Talk of food once again began the main subject of most conversation, and it looked as if the gathering would be breaking up into separate groups searching their suppers in whatever direction they would take.
Rick called a few of us out to the dock with a wave of his hand and a puzzling low voice that seemed to speak of intrigue. We walked down curious to what he was planning to do because whatever he usually planned to do was usually very curious to begin with. Of course he held true to form.
The geese were no longer near the middle of the little lake and were now only about 100 or 150 feet from the dock. Rick looked over at my buddy and asked him if he was hungry, and of course he said he was as were all were quite hungry by this time. Well Rick said he had a plan and if we would clean it we were going to have a goose for supper. I reminded him there was no shooting allowed in the park and it wasn’t in season anyway. He waved me away with a look as if I were suddenly struck daft. No, No he said quietly and with his low tone of intrigue, “You know how good of a swimmer I am right?” He asked. Of course I had never seen him swim and had no idea so I gave him a blank look and said nothing.
He looked over at my buddy and outlined his plan. Once again Rick seemed to think he was going to impress everyone and once again I figured no one was going to be impressed. Still I thought to myself, this is going to be quite entertaining. And it was, at least for awhile.
Rick lowered himself into the water off the end of the dock and I could see that he was already beginning to shiver as we were not that far removed from the harsh winter weather. The cold water and combined effect of the sinking sun left the air on the dock more than just a little bit chilly. I watched as Rick slowly began to move away from the dock in a silent breast stroke towards the small family of birds now sitting still in the water.
I wondered aloud if he would really go through with this and how he could possibly stand to be out in the cold water for so long. My buddy just looked at me and shrugged. So we stood there and watched him slowly approach the birds. “He might actually do it” my buddy said aloud to no one and I thought to myself that since the geese aren’t looking directly at him maybe he would.
As Rick approached within about ten feet of the largest bird I realized how small his head appeared next to the giant bird and realized what a stupid thing we had just let him do and I thought about yelling out to stop him. It was about that time Rick’s head disappeared below the surface of the water and my buddy hit me in the arm and looked at me with a look of dread that I felt deep to the bone.
A second or two later the evening air filled with violent splashing along with the loudest honking I had ever heard from a goose. The smaller geese rapidly swam away flapping their wings and making a huge scene of themselves while the lone big bird began stabbing into the water furiously with its long neck and beak. If Rick had been an alligator in warm water his plan would have made perfect sense, but he was a human in icy cold water trying to drown a huge waterfowl while he was treading water or just underneath holding his breath. The water was extremely cold and his body had to be freezing, but Rick was one to never stop once he set a plan into motion. It never seemed to matter how is plans were proceeding or what they were, he always went forward to what ever conclusion was going to happen regardless of what he had set in motion.
We stood on the dock for what seemed like an eternity watching things unfold. I am sure it was only several seconds but eventually and what was really only what could be called inevitably Rick started screaming for help. The big bird was biting and beating him to death with its beak, each time he would get close enough to the surface to draw breath the bird would strike him over and over again. Even as he tried to swim away from the large goose the bird followed him intently striking him over and over.
My buddy ran up and away from the dock yelling back over his shoulder that he was going to grab his shotgun from the truck and for me to not just stand there but to do something. “Shit“, I shouted, and then, “what can I do out there” so I ran from the dock to the shore line to find anything I could to throw at the big bird that looked as if it were going to successfully kill our friend. Of course in the Midwest our lakes are seldom lined with natural rocks but I was able to find a few pieces of large rip rap that had been placed many years before in an unsuccessful attempt at weed control. I did my best to throw these at the bird but they were too bulky and heavy to have accuracy and I was genuinely concerned about breaking my friends skull with one of them.
Suddenly three loud shot gun blasts occurred behind me and even though I knew my friend had gone to retrieve his gun the first shot nearly caused me to jump out of my skin. The large bird honked and violently began flapping its wings as it clumsily left the water and flew inches off the surface to the far end of the lake to join the rest of the small gaggle.
Several of us shouted in relief as the bird flew away from where it had been attacking our friend in the cold water but we soon fell silent as we couldn’t see Rick anywhere. Get a boat somebody yelled from back by the pavilion and someone else replied there was one not too far down the shore.
I stood on the shore staring intently at the place in the lake where I thought I had last seen our friend. At first I wished silently to see his head and soon I was shouting his name hoping to hear a reply. There was nothing.
A few minutes later a small square bowed john boat was hurriedly pushed into the water towards the area where Rick had last been seen. I shouted directions to the rower and within another minute they were on top of the place we had last seen our friend. “Where is he” they yelled back and with that, every person left on the scene started shouting his name. And for an hour our calls were answered only by silence and the cries of a few of the girls still back by the cars.
A few of the girls had gone into town to summon help, but no one had yet arrived. So the scene had become quite frantic as everyone was screaming Rick’s name and hoping to get an answer. But after awhile it became apparent that he wasn’t going to answer. I think maybe that was the first time as a young man that I actually cried in front of other people. It wasn’t a blubbering wail but the tears were too full to pretend they weren’t there.
Why did we let him do that? I asked aloud, though mostly to myself as we sat on the tables under the pavilion. Sirens were finally within earshot of our now small group and I knew there were going to be a lot of people asking us a lot of questions. We were not of a legal drinking age and while folks generally admonished our actions they did so with a wink and a nod, though this time one of us was dead and there wasn’t going to be any funny stories to go along with our antics.
We sat on the tables with a deputy while the firemen and the other police searched the surface of the lake with their boats and spot lights. The air was full of flashing lights from about a dozen varied emergency vehicles and the sounds of concerned onlookers intermingled with the echoes of voices from the various radios. It was a nightmarish scene that I knew would be burned into my brain for the rest of my life. I was scared and mad and full of so many emotions that I didn’t notice the dark shadow emerging onto the patio under the pavilion roof at first.
"Oh my God" screamed one of the girls sitting closest to me and I looked up to see a fellow with a face covered in blood and that looked as if it had been attacked with an axe. It was Rick, alive, completely bewildered and shivering uncontrollably. He had managed to get back to shore but had fallen unconscious into the tall weeds and laid there unseen by all of the searchers still on the water.
He looked at one of the fireman and said, “that fucking bird kicked my ass“, and fell face first into a blanket left from earlier in the afternoon......