Sunday, January 14, 2007

Among the Red Pines

"It is hard to tell the truth about this bird."

-Flannery O'Connor

I spent last weekend buffing up on Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964), rereading her short stories, writing the syllabus for a class I'm teaching. O'Connor, of course, raised peacocks on her family's farm near Milledgeville, Georgia. She once wrote that though she had more than forty males and peahens wandering around the farmyard and roosting in the surrounding trees, "for some time now I have not felt it wise to take a census." Today, O'Connor is so closely identified with the bird that peacocks often appear on the covers of her books.

I work in a government office building set near the rural center of the county. The building is laid out among vast blueberry fields and acres of nursery stock. On its western edge, the grounds merge into a large county park of second-growth hardwoods and red pines. During the lunch hour, I go for walks in the park. It's something my doctor said I should do. Because we've had so little snow this winter, the cross-country ski trails are not much used, and I often have the park to myself. Despite the trail improvements, in its interior reaches, the park is a wild place.

By Thursday around noon, an all-night rain had lightened into a steady mist. I was on my walk, circling along a back trail when I saw a purplish-blue shape, burnished with a startling iridescent green, motionless, lying off to the right on a bed of pine needles. It was obviously a dead bird, and I thought wild turkey--we have many of those--or even, for a moment, a dead hawk.

I left the trail to look more closely and found the body of a peacock.

The bird was not long dead. Whatever had killed it (a feral dog, perhaps a coyote) must have attacked the peacock on its earthward flank. No wounds were visible and only the bird's left wing, twisted awkwardly into the air like a fin, spoke of violence. The bird's large gray claws were intertwined and seemed almost delicate. A few of its primary feathers were scattered back toward the path and its long, impossible tail feathers were still attached, trailing away in perfect alignment with the body.

I did not take any of its feathers. I did not touch the bird or turn the carcass over.

I can't say what a peacock was doing in that stand of red pines. And what are the chances that I would find its body? There are those in the area who raise exotic birds and the likely explanation is that the unfortunate thing had wandered off on a frolic. But because I ask for signs and wonders, I took my coming upon the peacock so soon after immersing myself in the work of Flannery O'Connor as a kind of answer.

And in the words of the poet Frank Stanford:

Such thoughts I had,
I cannot tell you.


Blogger Diane K. Martin said...

Greg, I love when things like that happen! I don't mean what happened to the poor peacock -- I mean synchronicity. A wow moment!

4:26 PM  

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