Devil Birds

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Winter is a grim time for any mailman, but so long as the temperature is above zero and the wind isn’t blowing too strong, it isn’t that bad.  My job was a comfort to me, the dull uniformity of it.  At work, at least I knew what to expect.  I delighted in hearing coworkers endlessly complain about things that didn’t really matter.  I loved trudging through the snow to the same four-hundred-and-sixty houses that were nestled in a blanket of sterile whiteness.  The physical challenge and hardship seemed to somehow numb my anguish and worry about my cancer-stricken wife.

One morning I heard a raucous shriek as I drove down Elliot Avenue.  I looked up and out of the January sunlight I saw a bald eagle with a branch in its talons.  It flew low over the houses and landed in a sixty-foot white pine.  It must have been twenty-five below zero, but the creature seemed to pay no mind.  I was shaken and elated.  Bald eagles are a common enough sight in Minneapolis, but I still feel a sense of awe whenever one presents itself.  They lay their eggs early and this bird was no doubt getting its massive nest ready for the new season.

The avian couple had started their home there a couple of years previous when their old nest by the 5-8 Club on Cedar Avenue came crashing down.  The nest was positioned on the last block of my route and I took a modicum of pride in it being there.  I always paused in my rounds to look up at it and many a walker down the pleasant street did the same.  Residents of the block told me stories about the great birds that had come to live with them.  One woman told me how the eagles used to engage in noisy midnight feuds with a pair of great horned owls who resided in a large maple a few houses away.  She also told me the tale of how one morning the occupants of the house with the giant pine awoke to a loud thud on their roof and the sound of something rolling down.  They stepped outside to investigate and found a painted turtle bloodied, but still alive in its shell on their front lawn.  They looked up into the towering boughs of the tree and saw the eagles looking back down at them.  The family loaded the children into the car and transported the injured and dazed turtle to nearby Diamond Lake. They released the animal and it slowly, stubbornly returned to the muck from which it had come.

            At the end of each working day, I would gaze up at the nest.  So many years after being told by a manager who wanted to fire me that “I wasn’t getting paid to look up at the birdies,” I was still doing it.  And I didn’t feel bad about it in the least.  My wife got too sick and quit the chemo.  The snow melted.  I delivered my route.  I looked at crows and thought about my father.  Nothing ever bothered me until one day something did.

The crows would perch on the limbs around the nest and harangue the eagles.  They cawed at them relentlessly, everyday seeming to inch closer.  I worried that something must be wrong with the nestlings.  The eagle would flap her wings and open her beak in defiance, but not much else.  It is funny how in nature the smaller birds can pester the larger birds with impunity.  Then one day I saw the eagle had forfeited her place in the nest.  She was off on a limb to the side with her head hung.  The crow was inside the nest braying with his neck outstretched like some devil-bird.  I knew that the nestlings must be dead, that they were being eaten and picked apart.

The bald eagles abandoned the nest entirely and I never saw them again.

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