I went to the beaver dam today. Actually I was on a pilgrimage; I wanted to share what I saw and found and felt with my grandchildren, most specifically Jon and Derrick. How they loved that pond and now they no longer live with us.
I walked across my brother's Dale's field, then into the woods where the trail led to the pond in the canyon. There I smelled the faint woodsy smell of mosses and mayflowers and the pungent aroma of fir branches. I caught glimmers of the pond through the barely budded vine maples and hazelnut.
Were the mallard ducks who had made the pond their own last Fall be there? I headed down to the pond edge and yes, they were swimming toward the dam. Before I could get my camera out they flounced in a great water works display and disappeared skyward. It was then I heard the sound of a bird calling; I had heard it from the top of the slope, but I hadn't paid much attention. Several small brown—or were they gray birds on the other side—flitted through the branches. Could it be that they, angry at my intrusion, were calling out a warning, “human in the forest! Watch out! Watch out!”
I climbed up on the huge piece of a giant old snag that had fallen during the Columbus Day storm of '62 and took several pictures, then moved to several locations to take more pond shots. And all the time I heard that warning call, over and over, and over again. It almost sounded like a froggish “ribbett” call, but it was higher pitched than any frog could make and I knew I'd never heard it before.
Something isn't right, I thought. That's a distress call; a wild creature in trouble.
I got down on my elbows and knees and crawled under the wire fence spanning the upper part of the pond. My jeans got wet and it took a bit to get through. One shoe even sank out of sight and the mud slurped as it let go. As I moved closer to the sound I realized it came from the ground.
There, right in front of me was a beautiful bird with orange and black wing and tail feathers jammed tightly under a root. Anxious to see if there was any way I could help, I gently removed the frightened creature. The bird tried to move away but couldn't go far; it had blood on one wing and had a hard time walking. My daughter and her twins had previous experience in rescuing wild creatures--one of them would know what to do. I took several pictures for identification purposes and headed back home. All the while those shrill distress cries followed me to the top of the canyon where the trail led back through Dale's field and home again.
Clytie, Georgian and Victoria were eager and ready to go. But when we reached the slope overlooking the pond we heard no cry. The duck pair rose upward, the sun was warm on our shoulders. This time I climbed over the fence, holding the barbed wire as low as I could. I spotted the bird almost immediately, lying in the mud. I picked it up, then passed it's motionless body over the fence to my waiting family. Georgia wrapped it tenderly in the towel she'd brought and we headed for home.
While my son and his wife surfed the web, Victoria, Clytie and I leafed through bird books while Georgia cradled the injured bird in her arms. At first we thought it might be a fledgling green heron, it had similar markings and a long sharp beak. Then Clytie found a picture of a flicker that closely matched our prodigy. Grandpa confirmed he thought it was one, too.
Sadly our beautiful bird took his last breath at 6 p.m. He had found his own safe place and we were left with our memories; the beaver pond, the flying ducks and the injured flicker wrapped in his own warm towel who took his own flight up and away.