Friday, April 01, 2005


We called him Gus, in part because he looked like a Gus, and partly because that seemed like a good name to go with "The Grouse."

Dave met him first. "This huge bird attacked the car this morning," he said.

I asked for clarification. "You mean it swooped closely?"

"No. I mean it attacked the car." He described how he was just crossing the creek at the bottom of our driveway when this winged mass struck the side of the car.

"Freaky," I said.

When he came home the next day with the same story, I asked if he had witnesses. Unfortunately, he did not. No one could validate his report. But he lucked out the next morning when both kids were in the car with him during the early morning creek crossing.

“It’s true,” Zac said. “This big bird was waiting for us in the bushes. He saw us coming, starting running alongside the car--you know, to get some speed--then he took flight, and ‘bam!’--smacked against the side of the window.

I like the way Zac tells stories. He always makes you feel like you were right there. But in this case, that wasn't good enough for me.

Call me Doubting Thomas if you like. I really needed to see this car-eating bird for myself. So early the next morning, saying I “needed a latte,” I headed to Starbuck’s. And sure enough—just as I approached the creek, I noticed a sprinting, brown blur out of the corner of my eye and then heard a tremendous smack of head and feathers against my side window.

I screamed.

While swapping scary bird stories later that night, Dave showed me a picture he'd found on the internet that looked just like our bird. Of course, I had to squint and imagine that picture taking flight and opening its hideous beak and coming at me like a hungry, ferocious, tree-dwelling shark ... but the resemblance was there.

"It's a grouse," Dave said.

The grouse needed a name. One of us (I can't remember which one of us it was, and besides, bragging is so unbecoming. Let's just say it was the adult in our house who knows how to sew curtains and knit and make a mean chicken pot pie, okay?) cleverly suggested "Gus." And so he was christened.

Gus battled our car for about two weeks, and then one day, instead of waiting for us down by the creek, he settled in a tree next to the house. We came home from somewhere and there he was, up in the branches, looking down on us. When we piled out of the car, he swooped close--just to show us he wasn't afraid.

We got used to seeing him up there. We expected him. And so it wasn't a big surprise when he left the tree one afternoon and landed on the back patio while I was out there having lunch. I was a little startled when he walked right up to me, and a little unnerved when he reached over and took a bite of the sandwich I stretched out toward him. After that, though, very little about Gus surprised me.

He'd follow me--on foot--when I walked out to the garden. "C'mon, Gus," I'd say. "We're checking the grapes."

Once, when I was washing the jeep, he waltzed around the back end like a bird-on-a-mission.

"Hey, there, Gus," I said, but he brushed aside my pleasantries with an impatient nod of his head, reached out his beak, and pulled on my pant leg. He repeated this urgent tugging again and again, but I couldn't get any more information out of him. Only later did I realize he was probably trying to tell me that Timmy was tied to the tracks and the train was just coming around the bend--with faulty brakes. Sorry Timmy.

The last time I saw Gus, I was outside lifting weights with Dave. He (Dave, that is--not Gus) had set up his bench and bar bell and all the hand weights, and had invited me to give it a try. After repeated assurances that three sets of ten reps wouldn't burst the seams in my sleeves (I mean, firmness is one thing ... but I don't want guns or pipes or whatever you call them), I took a five-pound weight and started doing curls. I hadn't done three whole curls, when I felt Gus's little claws on my shoulder.

I laughed and shivered. His claws tickled. I laughed some more when he reached over and tugged on my hair. But then an image of Gus poop dotting the back of my shirt made me shiver for a different reason.

"Can you get him off?" I asked Dave.

"C'mon, Gus," Dave said. He slipped his hand under Gus's claws and transferred him to the bar bell, where he sat and watched us work out for several minutes.

When the time came for me to try my hand at bench-pressing, Dave moved Gus again. But he didn't want to perch on the cradle. He wanted to perch on me. So he hopped down and landed on my stomach.

I laughed again. "Gus! Get off me!" I swept my hand under his feet and watched him take flight. Up he went, over his favorite tree. For all I know, he's still flying.

We watched, and waited, and hoped--but we never spotted Gus again. I can't even tell you how often, while crossing that creek, I've waited to hear that familiar "thwump" of feathers against my window. I miss that little guy something terrible. I wish I'd been just a bit more gracious that last time. I wish I'd stopped what I was doing, looked over at that beautiful bird and said, "You just sit there as long as you like, Gus."

As a writer, I'm aware that Guses are gifts. They're those little flits of inspiration that wing their way across your mind while you're staring at the trees. They're the ideas you couldn't have conjured on your own. If you're wise, and you're alert, you learn to hear the far-off flutter of those wings. You tune in. You wait. You welcome--and appreciate--those heaven-sent gifts.

Henry Ward Beecher had this to say about the Guses in our lives:

"There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousand truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away."

The next time someone's name pops into your mind, don't shake it off. They might need your prayers. The next time a door flies open and you see a perfect opportunity to share Christ with someone, don't shut the door. Walk through it.

And when those ideas arrive from out of a clear blue sky, make sure you grab a pen and capture them. If you don't, they may never come your way again.

Oh, and if some morning you're driving through the woods and you hear a big thump and notice a smattering of brown feathers splayed out all scary and intimidatingly against your window ... would you point Gus toward home?

* * *

We got Gus on video, but we never got a still photo of him. My thanks to Ann Cook of Birds of Manitoba for allowing me to use her photo of this ruffed grouse.

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6 Comment:

At 4/01/2005 11:22 PM, Blogger ddddddddddddddddddddd had this to say ...

What a beautiful story, thank you for sharing Gus with us.

At 4/01/2005 11:22 PM, Blogger ddddddddddddddddddddd had this to say ...

What a beautiful story, thank you for sharing Gus with us.

At 4/02/2005 7:37 AM, Anonymous Sharon Goemaere had this to say ...

Hi Shannon! :-)
What an incredible experience Gus must have been!Awesome.Beautiful story.Gus sounds like quite the character.I hope he returns some day.I think I would have liked him too! :-)

At 4/02/2005 9:15 AM, Blogger Tony had this to say ...

Shannon. That is an amazing, I never heard of a while bird being that tame. I have read many of your posts and enjoyed all of them. They are very inspiring.

At 4/03/2005 9:08 PM, Blogger ZZ OpenWeb Staff had this to say ...

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At 4/04/2005 9:53 AM, Blogger Nancy had this to say ...

What a great story about Gus. You really do have Wild Kingdom out there! I am jealous, all I have are five feral neighborhood cats that sit on my new car, use my flower beds for potty boxes and my yard is the designated fighting arena. I hope he returns to you.


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