Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Calling peacocks

Power without Sacrifice--silk cape by Beth Surdut

"There are baby peacocks loose in your neighborhood," the head of the Conservation Commission called to tell me. In a rural quintessential New England town that had seen one murder 33 years before I arrived to work as a reporter, small events masquerade as big news. The murder remains unsolved, but this time, I was prepared.
Ordered through the mail,  the peacock youngsters, too young to achieve brilliant coloration (not that the peahens ever would), weren't supposed to take flight until they'd matured, but like airplane schedules I'd encountered in Indonesia,  they took off when they pleased, especially since the owners had yet to build a covered enclosure. So, with a lot less effort than it took to escape the local penitentiary,  the birds had flown the  coop.
"Look up in the  trees, " the Con Com lady advised me.
Not knowing when a peacock caller would come in handy, I'd bought one for $2 from a jolly man who owned a downstairs shop on Boston's tony Newbury Street. The two reeds, a few inches long, bound together at each end with red twine, emit a piercing unbeautiful sound when you blow through them.
Too Much Beauty  
When I lived in  Florida, where a neighborhood was  known for its  free roaming  peacocks, a group of residents lobbied for an ordinance to rid the neighborhood of  these strikingly gorgeous birds with the voices of harridans.
For two years I worked for a newspaper that covered this lovely town of 5,000 people west of Boston complete with apple orchards, a village green, churches, livestock, dogs, cats and wild things-- fierce Fisher cats that howled like banshees,  hungry foxes, and bold coyotes that trotted by clenching little squealing bodies in their jaws.
"What about the cats and dogs," I asked the old woman who showed me the 150 year old house, a former commune with a hand- built Swedish sauna perched by the pond spillway.
"Guess they run a lot faster than they used to," she said grimly.
A neighbor came by to tell me he'd seen a Fisher cat in my yard early one morning. "Cat" sounded like a big kitty. I had no idea what hellishness roamed the forests until another neighbor brought me to the rotting corpse of this fearsome beast from the wolverine family.
I'd seen a determined fox take a gosling from my pond, a hawk snatch a sparrow in mid- air right in front of me, found baby deer legs behind my house. My two inquisitive Khaki Campbell ducks no longer knocked on my front door with their beaks
I now wandered the back roads of what felt like an H.P. Lovecraft horror story, honking my peacock caller, hoping that I would be triumphant.
As light filtered through the trees at day's end, I returned home to find a message from the Con Com lady scribbled on paper and tucked in my screen  door.
Peacocks returned of their own accord.
I have yet to have another chance to try out the efficacy of my peacock caller, but you just never know when it'll come in handy.

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