THE GARDEN POND TRAGEDY by Barbara Shean
They found her by the pond, lily pads cradling her long white feathers, floating gently beside waxen flowers and flat green leaves. One wing extended into the water, claws relaxed in the cool still darkness as if she were asleep, waiting for sunrise to tempt her awake.
But she would never wake again. Her head lay at a different angle to the rest of her body. Her neck had been broken.
The young Police Officer kept detached from the scene. He liked animals and this was appalling; the bird had a majestic look about it, even in death.
Shelley stood quietly to one side; shoulders hunched, handkerchief pressed to trembling lips, a few repressed sobs shaking her chest uncontrollably. It was she who had found her earlier that morning.
Thinking back through yesterday, a normal sunny summer day, a bit of a breeze in the tall trees in the garden, chases of water droplets sprinkling the path from the ornate fountain. Stalks of stately red gladioli curving lovingly against the flanking rose trees. The new kitten, playing with ants scurrying about their business, or chasing butterflies and bees, was nosily occupied.
It was late afternoon when the commotion began. Beyond the locked gates, a crowd of people had gathered, looking up into the tall oak tree inside the garden wall surrounding the property.
At this point Shelley was blissfully unaware of any sort of goings on, idly drinking afternoon tea and reading the short story she had written for the local rag that morning. Her husband wandered down to the gate to check the horses in the paddock, and quickly grasped the unfolding pantomime in front of his gates.
The adjoining estate reared and trained birds of prey, falconry. George had seen these birds in action only recently, marveling how anyone can train an instinctively wild bird. It was a young bird now, very high up in his tree, that had escaped earlier that day. The owners had tracked its movements constantly, tempting it down with morsels of food, to no avail. It was firmly trapped in the oak tree with the thin tracer chains tangled in the branches, too high up to be reached by a conventional roof ladder.
George joined in the rescue debate with the owners and it was decided the fire brigade would have to be called to assist. A larger crowd had gathered, neighbours and well-wishers, and those just plain curious as to what could be going on in this quiet area.
The fire brigade was called and they elected to come and see if their platform ladders were long enough to reach the trapped owl. The glow and sense of acceptance that these trained men could right the world murmured through the crowd, and a cheer went up as the platform ladders rose higher in the air. One of the firemen asked for silence, as the noisy atmosphere might frighten the owl even more. A hood was brought to cover the owl’s head and a cage to secure the bird on the decent.
While the men walked up the ladder through the boughs of the great tree, Shelley made her way toward her neighbour, the owner of the Falconry Training Centre, and his youngest son whose bird it was. The young man was very upset with himself for his carelessness in leaving the cages unattended, resulting in this afternoon’s mayhem. Both Shelley and the boy’s father were quick to point out that it was something that could so easily happen, and not to be too quick to place sole blame on him self. Hopefully, all would end well and no damage would be found to the owl.
A loud cheer resounded as the cage and occupant were gently brought down and placed with all due care into the hands of the young owner. Trays of tea appeared from somewhere and quite a festive air prevailed for a short while until the intercom in the fire engine itself was heard to ask if all was well, and to return to base. It was quite dark now and some people had torches to light their way. Much later, Shelley reflected what a good story it would make, and retired to bed with a head brimming full of ideas.
The wind and rain in the night disturbed no one except the wild life and some lopsided garden plants, refreshing the lawns for the hot day to come. Walking through the garden to check on the horses in the paddock next door, Shelley discovered the dead bird by the fountain and felt sad and horrified, especially after yesterday’s safe return of the young owl to its distressed owner. She returned in all haste to the house to tell George what she had found.
George was nodding into the telephone, as if agreeing with what was being said, a dour look on his face. All was not well, related George. Animal activists against cruelty had broken into the holding pens at the Falconry Training Centre during the night and released most of the birds into the wild. Some had returned, the older ones, but several of the younger birds had flown away into the night. Shelley quickly related what she had found by the fountain, her quivering voice mirroring her sadness, her thoughts on the happy face of the young owner reunited with his charge yesterday evening.
Later, Shelley took the young police office to record the information on the ring that held details of the owl’s breeding and age, loosely hanging round the now lifeless leg of the bird. The police had been informed of this criminal event and the ensuing damage it had caused, although it was, for all intents and purposes, something done by do-gooders in the community.
Shelley stayed in the garden until the owner of the Falconry Centre came to collect the unfortunate owl, putting it into a box in the back of his car. His next words cheered Shelley’s heart, in that the owl that was rescued by the firemen was deemed too frightened to be left with other owls in the sanctuary, and kept in the outer kitchen where its young owner could sooth it and make it comfortable.
Knowing Shelley’s work as a writer, the writing of a story to the local newspaper would only conjure up more animosity from ‘do-gooders’ objecting to birds in captivity. Realizing this herself, Shelley did not hesitate to reassure her neighbour that the story would be put on the back burner of her mind until the time was right and no damage would be doing by her writing it.
Telling the story to her friends later, Shelley said she was determined to train her kitten not to chase birds and climb trees, or fall into fountains. We all laughed aloud at this preposterous proposal, and wished her all the luck in her endeavor.