“Ode to a Pheasant”
“See! from the brake the whirring pheasant springs, And mounts exulting on triumphant wings” Alexander Pope Quotes , Source: Windsor Forest (l. 111)
I cannot say for certain when I first made his acquaintance or tell you the exact day he stole my heart. We had just moved to a small town in Connecticut from New York City following the 9/11 tragedy. Our new home’s family room sported an enormous glass window which overlooked the back yard, a spectacular bucolic setting of manicured jade green grass, magnolia trees and a pond, all bordering a 200 acre nature preserve. I was growing accustomed to the ubiquitous deer and red fox sightings but had never before encountered a pheasant and was not prepared for the effect his physical appearance bestowed, both in brilliance and beauty.
His presence, generally either early morning or late afternoon, was always announced by a loud and strange-sounding squawk, echoing eerily through the landscape. I grew to love this sound. Emerging from the tall hedges of the nature preserve he would strut and bob in all his splendor, slowly cruising the yard, pecking and flapping his great wings in a display of cockiness and valor.
I often pondered from where this lovely creature came. Was he an exotic pet from some grand estate who had fled to explore new pastures? Or perhaps a restless migrant in search of a mate? I researched the presence of pheasants in Fairfield County Connecticut and discovered that these fascinating birds were indeed not native to this area and rarely seen. My research further allowed that wild pheasants only live approximately five years in the wild unlike raised pheasants which can live up to twelve years in captivity. Our pheasant was chasing the years.
Sadly, the pheasant never did find a partner but instead took up with a group of wild turkeys who too frequented our property. I would often see him among the pack, his brilliance a gem among the other gray birds. The turkeys were a friendly lot and took him in with little fanfare. I loved them for that. I was pleased he had found companions though daydreamed about finding him a soul mate of his own, perhaps from some pheasant farm if that sort of thing existed. I imagined visiting, picking out a female pheasant and bringing it home. And like in a fairy tale they would live happily ever after and create for our town a whole new flock of pheasants for all to enjoy.
I longed to see him daily but as if sensing his importance he arrived only once or twice a week. In an attempt to lure him closer, I bought a bag of wild bird seed and scattered them in a line, starting at the opening of the preserve from which he emerged and ending just inches from my bedroom window. The very next morning, I heard him, louder than usual and realized with glee that the seed trail had worked. He stood majestically, so close to my window that I could reach out and touch him and in that brief moment snapped his photograph which still hangs on my refrigerator and atop this story.
There was something about the beauty of the pheasant and his calm demeanor that somehow made everything so right even on those days that were not. He became a fixture in the neighborhood and neighbors became proprietary. They began referring to him as “our pheasant” if he spent any amount of time on their property. He became somewhat of a celebrity in our small town.
When he went missing for sometimes weeks at a time, he became a topic of concern. I would see a friend in the local market and ask “Have you seen the pheasant.”? I imagined putting posters on trees in the area with his photo and the simple word “Missing.” No explanation necessary.
The pheasant enchanted us with his presence for over seven years, surviving hurricanes, snow storms and numerous predators. After one particularly fierce winter storm I fancied making up a tee-shirt for him stating “I survived the blizzard of 2010” and sending his photo to our local newspaper to feature in their wildlife section.
Then one day as magically as he had appeared, the pheasant returned no more. It has been over a year now. We no longer ask each other “Have you seen him?” There is an unsaid understanding among us. Nothing gold can stay.
Yet I still stare hard when I see the wild turkeys trotting by my window, hoping, praying for that glint of brilliant color amid the backdrop of the woods.