Old Friend


Looking long and hard at my camera, I knew the karmic reality: If I take the camera, I probably won’t get the opportunity I seek. The chance to see an old friend.

I needed to stack the odds. I left it behind.

My mission in the morning rain whittled down to the plain facts. Two years have passed. The final verdict would be handed down today.

It has been two years since I’ve heard him pierce the quiet morning with his hair-raising call that sounds like a steak knife scratched across fine china. Two years since I’ve ridden my bike along the Willamette River, and zig-zagged through his stomping grounds with him making a point to acknowledge my presence.

You might think I’m a little crazy to think that a Ring-necked Pheasant would actually be communicating with ME, but the facts tell me otherwise.

For three years running, as I rode through his spring territory, he would blast a signal in my direction.

The first time he did so, I stopped to watch. While other cyclists rode on past, he ignored them. Quiet as a lark.

A few days later, he greeted me again. At that time I decided it had to be my bright red helmet that got his attention. Or, that he felt was vying for his attention.

I introduced him to my girls on a bike ride, and we videotaped him as he strolled about.

Each of the two years I was unemployed, he would reappear, as if to remind me of the value of perseverance. That the strong aren’t going anywhere. They will endure.

When I would stop to watch for a while, he would disappear into the brush, then reappear. Not really hiding. More like playing.

Then I got a job. And I spent less time riding through his range.

And last year, when I did roll through, I heard nothing. I saw nothing.

As I pedaled on to work, I thought about how life does move on.

Then, this spring, today, I had a stirring. A feeling A hunch.

I haven’t thought much about him in a year. Then I thought last year just might have been an aberration.

So I rode out to find out, knowing, deep down, if he wasn’t there, he probably would never be again.

I prepared myself for that moment. Before donning my helmet, I noted how the years change us.

My helmet no longer has that bright red shine. It’s lost a bit of its luster. Haven’t we all.

As I cruised through his range, the countdown began. Spots where I’ve seen him time and again were quiet, nothing more than the rushing waters of the Willamette filling the void.

As I neared the edge of his range, a flash of red caught my eye. My heart skipped a beat.

There he stood, atop a pile of wood chips. Regal. Majestic. And huge.

Much larger than I ever remember. Although his back was to me, he craned his neck around and looked.

These were typically the moments of hide and seek, where he would slowly disappear into the grass or the bush, knowing full well I was watching.

Instead, he stood tall. Looking right at me. No moving an inch.

I circled around once. Twice. Then a third time.

All the while, he stood, unruffled.

I finally stopped my bike, and stood and stared.

A jogger passed. Then a cyclist.

He and I stood motionless, frozen in time.

Part of me wanted to hear him again. But most of me understood we’ve moved beyond that.

I stepped on a pedal and began to roll. He stepped off the wood chips, into the deep grass.

Until next year, old friend …

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