…..I remember a family picnic. It was at my mother’s sister’s farm. Joining the outing were my parents and sister, me (myself for haughty readers), my aunt and uncle, their son, T.C., his wife, Lyssa, and for a few minutes Lyssa’s pet Chihuahua Copper. The farm was quite a spread. From the house we travelled by cars, along a dusty, winding road, wheels in tractor-worn tracks, occasionally swerving to avoid a hole or gulley washed out by rain. We arrived at a clearing by a pond. Copper and I exited different cars, at the same time, and bounded across the grass. Copper ran toward the water yipping loudly, just because, because that’s mostly what Chihuahuas do. I was carrying a football, and had a mission. My eyes began a sweep of the field, intent on picking out landmarks to serve as goals and side lines. But I stopped looking for game boundaries when I noticed the scene.
….Fresh mown grass, a detail provided by my uncle to make touch football easier, flanked one gently-sloping shore. One end of the small field was over-towered by a huge, gnarled, old Oak tree. Its broad limbs reached out to make an umbrella-like canopy which cast speckled noon-day shadows on the earth. Hanging from two of those great wooden arms was not one, but two swings, a tire on a rope, and a board on two ropes. At the other end of the lawn was the edge of a dense grove of tall pine trees that grew from a forest floor blanketed with bronze-colored needles and wild, lush-green ferns. The air was completely still on the ground, though the tip-tops of the pines were nodding. The water’s edge swept, half-moon-shaped, from the Oak to the pines. The long, curved shoreline was home to cattails, weeping willows, and several pink and white flowering trees (no idea, I was only 9), their branches and petals dipped over to barely brush and reflect in the glassy water. I didn’t have words like tranquil or placid or serene in my daily vocabulary, but I was able to muster, “WOW!” Even Copper, standing still a few yards away, yipless, seemed to be taking in the beauty of the scene. Then Copper’s picnic-time ended.
…..Wild creatures can make wild things happen fast. A muffled sound, like throwing a coat on a couch, was the first evidence that the scene was NOT serene. It was the brush of an eagle’s wings against the grass. In a span of time too short to notice, wings brushed grass, talons caught skin, bird lifted dog, then bird with dog traced a straight, airborne line, across the pond, gaining altitude all the way. Copper yipped in shock. The eagle ignored him. Copper yelped for help. We were helpless. The yelps turned to wails as distance quieted the horror. We were horrified.
…..Yes. Horrified is exactly what I was, but, at the same time I was relieved that it was over, because I was pretty sure this was the most horrible thing I would ever see. Then my uncle put the event into cold-hearted perspective, “That’s the seventh time this year.” My already dropped jaw dropped more. He went on to tell of that eagle’s capture of three baby chicks, two baby ducks, a kitten, and now Copper.
…..Stunned by this statement, I looked at my father, certain he would correct my uncle’s blatant lie. But he didn’t. Almost casually he said, “Don’t worry about it, Andy. That’s just the way it is. Wild animals eat other animals. If that eagle can fly away with it, he’ll eat whatever he can catch.” On the scale from ‘hefty’ down to ‘non-existent’ I was far from hefty at ‘scrawny’. Right away I decided I better gain some weight. I didn’t want that to be me wailing over the woods. So at an early age I learned a valuable lesson. Though I would never be carried off by a bird of prey, I knew other smaller animals could be. That’s just the way it is.
…..That’s your lesson, too. Don’t expect the same animal types and behaviors at a home site in the wild as in the city. In town you may only find pigeons, crows, sparrows, and starlings. They’re no threat to a pet, and will certainly fly off if a “yip” is sent their way. But, way out in the country, the equivalent to city birds is eagles, falcons, hawks, and owls. They are unaffected by yips and yelps and wails. They will get your pets, whether in a field by a pond, on a lawn, or even on a leash. A pet-pen is not a deterrent, either, unless it’s covered, at least, with cage-mesh. Even small children in the open can be targets for talon scratches, if a bird thinks the child is flyable, which it’s not. Popular videos of eagles successfully stealing toddlers are FAKE, though based on the reality that actual attempts have been made, and documented.
….Of course, we never heard from Copper, again. If you put your pets in a similar situation, you’ll never hear from them, again, either. As the eagle says about your pet, “If it’s flyable, it’s edible.”
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