A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

The food chain on full display

Jan 31, 2013 - By Clair McFarland

I had to admit to myself that I'm a softie.

This morning, my son and I were enjoying our usual nonstop daily conversation, when we were interrupted by an alarming thwock sound to our immediate left.

Such was the sound of a large gray bird colliding with the dining room window, cutting short all of my son's precocious ramblings, and inspiring several minutes of quiet while the preschooler and myself watched the dire events that were to follow.

The plump, gray victim whose happy day had been so loudly concluded lay on our front lawn gasping. His chest posed skyward, he watched, with my son and I, as a brown, fierce-looking, predatory bird landed a foot from his delicate head. I'm sorry, but I don't know any species names, as I usually try not to watch birds unless they attempt to infiltrate my dining area.

My son then announced that the brown bird was there to "fix the gray bird." This was not the case.

The brown bird "fixed" cold eyes upon the gray bird, and did not deviate his gaze until the gray bird had breathed his last. Once there was no more evidence of breath from the prey, the brown bird put his sharp beak to work, systematically removing feathers and flesh, as if in no hurry for brunch at all.

At this point, I mused aloud that we could build an ornate railway system in the living room, several feet from the dining room window and its macabre goings on. Except my musing actually sounded like "come on sweetie, let's build a train track!"

My intervention had come too late. My son demanded an explanation.

As I try to be as direct and realistic a mother as possible, I explained about injury, death, and the brown bird's preferred method of survival. My son, unsympathetic of even his own carnivorous needs, and less sympathetic yet of the brown bird's, enumerated to me all the ways in which he'd have his revenge upon the brown bird. This discourse was complete with hand gestures.

What was more unusual than my son's passion for the underdog, or underbird, as it were, was the fact that I felt sympathetic, and a little disgusted, as well. I had to admit to myself that I'm a softie. But why, in the midst of these happenings, did my soft side decide to come out? It didn't show its head the last time my husband gave me a dead deer, and I gave him deer stroganoff in return.

The answer to that is in the fading sighs of the gray bird. I don't think I've ever watched anything -- besides bugs and trout -- die.

In those moments of contemplation over whether the creature would live, my mind gave in to hope -- that emotion which is most painful when circumstances disappoint.

I wondered whether the bird would live, or whether he'd spend his last moments of life staring into the uncaring eyes of his food-chain superior. I contemplated his dying thoughts.

Also, the bird realized the two worst fears of most every human who is OK with public speaking: to die from a stupid mistake, and to have others lurking around in happy anticipation of your death.

Oh, the morbidity of that unchangeable moment in which the gray bird forgot his surroundings and slammed into my window! The regret and shame he must have felt as he lay on my lawn! All the meaningful events of his life, which were surely blazing in his mind as lucid as the days on which they occurred, were brought to naught by that one act of utter disregard.

After contemplating these dark themes, I shredded up some leftover turkey meat for turkey chili. For some reason, it sounded like it would hit the spot.

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