I was at my mom's house yesterday, which is very close to the city. I was waiting in the car while my mom went into the house to get something. While she was inside, I noticed something moving under her front window. Next thing I know, a giant bird walks out of the bushes. Now when I say giant, I don't mean Big Bird giant. But it certainly wasn't robin or blue jay size. It was a little smaller than a turkey with a long tail and completely brown. It wasn't a bit afraid, as several people had walked right by it without even knowing it was there.
I grew up with a dad that enjoyed the outdoors and was an avid sportsman. I'm pretty good at identifying animals - by sight, poop or tracks. But I could not figure out what this was. Too small for a turkey, too long of a tail for a grouse. Lucky for me my mom is even better at identifying animals, and she informed me it was a female pheasant. That thought never even crossed my mind, as I never expected to see one in the city.
The last few months I have been paying more attention to animals, especially birds. Native American tradition suggests that each individual is connected with nine different animals throughout our lives that act as guides. Each time I have a strange encounter with an animal, I google " ----- as totem". I did this when the hawk flew into the branch right above me and just sat and cleaned itself, and when the turkey almost dive bombed my car, and the groundhog stood up on its hind legs and just watched us drive past, and the day I saw 4 blue jays in a tree at the same time. The description of the symbolism of the animal has always been very accurate to what I was going through at the time.
The meaning of pheasant is right on in this case too. I have to admit that pheasant's make me feel guilty, as they bring back a childhood memory I would just as soon forget. My encounter with a pheasant around age 12 is probably what started me on the path to vegetarianism.
I can't think of anything my dad enjoyed more than hunting, except maybe Manhattans and cigarettes. He desperately wanted me to share his passion, much to my dismay. As the oldest child, he could not wait until my twelfth birthday, so I could join him on these morbid expeditions. My dad tried valiantly to make me a hunter, and I think it was one of the few times in my life I disappointed him.
Once, we rowed into a swamp at 3 am to start shooting geese at daybreak. Luckily for the geese, about 30 minutes after daybreak I was so bored and annoying that my dad couldn't stand it anymore and we went home. By the way, did you know geese mate for life? They sometimes circle the place where their mate has fallen out of the sky for days. Then there was the time I was deer hunting with my mom, and a deer ran about 15 feet in front of us. Lucky for the doe it was buck season. After almost wetting myself, I told my mom that if it happened to be a buck she would have to shoot it because I couldn't.
Then there was the infamous pheasant hunt. My dad thought that pheasant would be a great substitution for turkey for Thanksgiving one year. We hauled ourselves off to a pheasant farm, where they raise pheasants and then turn them loose in a field. You are pretty much guaranteed to shoot something, as you then go out into a field with a dog that scares the pheasant into flight. I have many issues with this to begin with, but then I had to have a pheasant that refused to fly. The dog just couldn't get him to budge. So the owner of the place walked over to the bird, picked him up, and threw him into the air. My dad yelled, "SHOOT IT", and in an effort to please him, I did. Unfortunately for the pheasant, my aim was pretty good.
I don't have many vivid memories from the age of twelve, but I can remember that moment like it was yesterday. The trip back home is a blur, but I can remember sitting on the step in the driveway after we got home. I had the pheasant cradled in my lap, somehow trying to apologize to it and make peace with what I had done. My neighbor yelled down from her yard, "Did you get a new pet?". "No", I said, "It's a dead pheasant". No wonder the neighbors thought we were a little weird.
That is the one and only thing I have ever killed in my life. Actually, that's a lie. I went fishing when I was a kid, I've set a few successful mousetraps, and I have killed countless bugs. But that is the one snuffing out of a life that I feel the most remorse for. My dad, however, had never been more proud of me.
So it is with great astonishment and pleasure that I find the pheasant re-entering my life, especially with the good message it brings. Maybe it has forgotten about the past, or decided to let bygones be bygones. Or maybe it's just decided that we need to co-exist. Whatever the reason, I am grateful.