Friday, October 23, 2009

Pheasants and Fall

This time of year brings back childhood memories. Here is one of them:
I sailed over the wooden bridge on my bicycle and slid onto the gravel pathway that skirted Willow Park. The trail wound through marshland, giving visitors glimpses of wild geese, ducks, and birds in their natural habitat.

I stopped my bike and walked through the knee-high grass. I refused to leave to chance the possible sighting of a duck or a bird, even though a sign said “keep off.” It was my lucky day. In minutes, I spied a pheasant’s nest. I knew about pheasants from my uncle Vern who hunted them in season and shared his kill with our family.

The nest was hidden in a clump of Johnson grass like a forgotten Easter basket. Nestled inside were four greenish brown eggs just waiting to be found. I moved closer. Where was their mother? Was she lurking somewhere in the underbrush or had she deserted her nest? Was she alive or dead?

The pheasants my Uncle Vern flopped on our kitchen counter haunted me: the glassy eyes frozen in stare, the shiny green head, the white neck ring splattered with droplets of blood, the speckled brown wings, the striped tail feathers, the buckshot battered breast.

I knelt in the damp grass. The eggs were still warm and as smooth as sugar candy. I wanted them – all four of them, but I could only carry two. Cradling an egg in each hand, I returned to the path and mounted my bicycle. At least I could save two eggs -- two pheasants. I would keep them warm and hatch them out myself. After all, their mother had abandoned them. What if she didn’t come back?

I rode carefully down the gravel pathway, over the bridge and onto the asphalt pavement; struggling to protect the eggs and to guide my handlebars. I was excited about the prospects of incubating the eggs at home. I imagined the babies growing up under my watchful care until they could flap their bronze speckled wings and soar to freedom.

A bump in the pavement shattered my reverie. I braked. The bike swerved. I cushioned my fall with an outstretched leg and a tight grip on the handlebars. Whoosh – crunch, the sounds of multiple crackles reverberated through the air. I felt sick watching the life giving yolk and slimy white gook ooze through my fingers. The eggs were shattered. The precious gift of life I had held only moments ago was gone.

Years later this painful memory would shape my respect for life – all life. God alone knows the miracle, the purpose and the potential that exists within any given seed or embryo. Who am I to act in God’s name, determining who will live or who will die, weighing the value of one life against another?

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)