Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Last Time I Shot A Bird

I grew up in a house on a hill just out of town. I rode my bike to school every day with friends from my street. Most days began with us tearing down the hill on ten-speed racers, past cow paddocks and cypress trees.

Magpies nested in the cypress trees every spring. The mother magpie would swoop at us as we rode past the nesting trees. We rode as fast as we could under her tree, hoping she wouldn’t have time to notice us coming. I think she saw us as sport, as we presented little threat to her nesting chicks. During the spring, my day began with twenty seconds of sheer terror.

One sunny morning, I was riding to school with my friend Buzz. We were racing down the hill, past the cypress trees, when the female magpie appeared, flying right for us from directly in front. Buzz turned sharply, and ran headlong into me. Pedals tangled with spokes, and our bikes were airborne. Before we knew it we were picking our bikes and ourselves up from the gravel road. The magpies watched from their perch as we sat in the morning sun, picking stones from bloodied knees and elbows. We were late to school that day.

After school, that day or the next, I walked to the magpie’s tree. I aimed my air rifle at the mother magpie’s breast, as she stared back down at me from her nest. I squeezed the trigger. In silent, slow motion she fell dead into the long grass at my feet. I picked up the dead bird, and remember thinking that it was heavier than I’d imagined a dead magpie might be. I held that warm, heavy, dead bird in my hands for a few moments. A single round spot of sticky, warm blood marked my palm. I hid the magpie’s body in a hollow log and walked back home, as silent as a dead bird falling from a tree.

While riding to school the following week, I heard the magpie’s chicks squawking as I rode under the nesting tree. Day by day, their cries became weaker and weaker, until they disappeared altogether. Babies without mothers don’t last long.

As far as I can remember, that was the last time I shot a bird.