A Day in a Life: The Day The Pheasant Died

Fifi sunning herself next to the warm bricks on a very cold day... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Fifi sunning herself next to the warm bricks
on a very cold day…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Our little visitor arrived on Sunday February 1, 2015. We called her Fifi, a little ring-necked pheasant with an injured foot. We wondered how long she’d stay. Day after day she’d arrive from wherever she was hiding out to eat at the bird feeders we have hanging in our yard, joining the other birds on the ground, those too big to cling on the feeders and those who just couldn’t get a spot on the crowded perches.

Occasionally, she’d sit in the sun, either on the front porch or close to the house. One day I found her hideaway, a basement window well, tucked up close to the warm chimney and out of sight. I saw her sitting there when I happened to be in the basement. It seemed like a good spot, well-chosen.

After that I noticed she spent most of her time there, only venturing out to eat bird seed for about an hour a day. We wondered how she was surviving on so little, but then I noticed her feasting on dried grasses, pecking at the frozen soil. I read that pheasants, with their long sharp beaks, can dig down about 3 inches, even through frozen ground to find nourishment.

“She’s just a sitting duck,” Chuck said one day, “it’s only a matter of time.” We agreed that she was nonetheless a plucky little bird and we watched her with concern, every day that she appeared another sign of her tenacity. Her foot, though, never seemed to heal. She could barely stand on it.

One day, I had a vision of looking out the window to find her being mauled by a hawk. She was vulnerable, both night and day, to the extremely sensitive smell and sight of the predator birds. We heard there was a bobcat in the neighborhood too, and we worried about a cat attack as well. She seemed to do well when faced with the neighborhood cats, some of them real hunters. The most frequent cat visitor is an inept novice, but a bobcat was another matter. Her wings worked just fine, though her takeoff was a little clumsy, especially in deep snow.

Wednesday February 18th arrived. It was Ash Wednesday, a New Moon phase was about to begin and it was the eve of the Chinese New Year, by all accounts a most auspicious day. I channeled a Soulbyte early in the morning, before sunrise, part of which read: “…nature has an unusual way of delivering its messages! So be aware of its gifts, that they may arrive in strange packages.” You can read the whole Soulbyte here.

As the sun rose I went to peak out the window at Fifi, as was my usual habit. I’d come to enjoy her presence and each day I marveled at her surviving yet another cold night, some of the coldest we’ve had in a long time, dipping down into below zero temperatures for several days in a row. It was still not quite light, but I could see destruction as soon as I looked out the window. Her headless carcass lay mauled in the snow drift behind which she had found safety and protection. She was surrounded by an explosion of feathers.

The angel of death came in the night... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
The angel of death came in the night…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

“She’s gone, something got her!” I yelled, my vision of the hawk coming to mind. We both felt immediately sad, our Fifi was no more. “But what does it mean?” Chuck said in his usual inquisitive manner. Yes, what does it mean indeed!

It was then that I remembered the hawk that had been visiting lately too. For three days it had come and perched in the trees in the yard, scaring the other birds. I realized that it had been smelling death, that Fifi was growing weaker. I had actually noticed her sitting the day before with her face to the wall, her back in the sun, rather than alert in her nest in the window well, and I sensed she was growing sickly. Last Sunday we had actually written about the hawk, after receiving an ominous sounding channeled Soulbyte. The hawk figured quite prominently in our process that day. You can read about it here: Waiting.

It became my job to take care of Fifi’s remains. We couldn’t leave her by the house. Chuck had early sessions and I am usually writing on Wednesday mornings. Around eight I got a shovel and went out. Climbing through the deep snow I made my way over to where she lay. No animal tracks disturbed the overlay of light fluffy snow. I saw that her decapitated head lay among a profusion of feathers, the rest of her lay on top of the snowdrift, gutted and bloody. Something had ripped her open and eaten its fill. It did not look like a cat or bobcat got her, as there were no tracks in the snow and I doubt a house cat could have done such damage. A bobcat, I suspect, would have carried her off. The hawk? Did hawks feed at night? It was then that I saw the imprints in the snow of a wide wingspan. A predatory bird had gotten her. Perhaps it was the hawk, or even an owl. We will never know for sure.

Like a forensic scientist I took pictures. I am more curious than disturbed by guts and gore. Then I had to decide what to do with her. The feathers would stay covering the ground next to the house. Let the wind take them. Let the earth take them. But Fifi was dead now and she needed a fitting animal rite of passage.

I shoveled up her remains, putting her severed head on top, and moved her out to the front yard, not too far from where she had pecked at seed for the 18 days she had spent in our presence. I would give her a burial that was similar to that which was common in old Tibet, the corpse left on the mountainside, too cold and rocky to dig into, to be picked at by vultures. In this way Fifi’s remains would feed others and eventually be deposited into the earth, a most fitting and natural burial.

Soon the scavengers arrived, first the crows and then the hawk. I bid her farewell, sending her off on the next leg of her journey with thanks and gratitude for having come and been a part of our lives, showing us not only the tenacity of life to live to the fullest, but also the inevitability of death.

Dispersing her remains... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Dispersing her remains…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

The day progressed, Chuck and I talking occasionally about our process regarding what we had experienced with Fifi and our sadness at her end, inevitable though it was. Death comes to us all. And we noted the significance of the day, a day of transition, shift, and new beginnings as well.

In the afternoon I received a phone call from my daughter in New Orleans. I had written about our strong connection in my blogpost last week, Living An Energetic Life, in which I also wrote about Fifi. Earlier that morning, after I had taken care of Fifi I thought of my daughter. “Your daughter is okay,” I heard, “she’s fine.”

The first thing she said to me was, “Where were you at 8:30 this morning? I was calling you. I got hit by a car!” I was stunned. Concern for her immediately welled up, my first thought being that I had not been available for her when she needed me. She had been walking to work, the day after Fat Tuesday, the last and biggest day of Mardi Gras revelry in New Orleans, when a presumedly drunk driver jumped the curb and onto the street corner where she was standing, sideswiping her body with his car. She said he didn’t stop, but looked out his window at her as he sped off.

Two women, who witnessed the accident, came to her rescue. They sat with her on a bench and made sure she was okay. Did she want to go to the hospital? Did she want to call the police? No, she was just shook up. They sat with her until she felt calm enough to get up and continue on her way.

When I told her what I had been doing at 8:30, taking care of Fifi, she immediately blurted out, “I knew you were doing something important, something so that you knew about me. The pheasant died but I lived!” We agreed that Fifi gave her life so that my daughter might live. It was as fitting a meaning as we could find at that moment.

Had the car been just a few inches further onto the sidewalk, my daughter said, she would either be dead or severely injured. “I never really knew what it meant to be happy to be alive until now,” she said. “I am so happy to be alive!”

Although death stalked her that day, came very near, my daughter did not flinch. Like a shaman she looked right back at death and yelled at him. She was not overcome. She’s not a victim. She’s a warrior. And like a warrior she got up and continued on to work!

I look to the day itself, a day of transition, transformation, and shift for deeper meaning for all of us. Something was bound to happen, that’s what the energy of the day was all about. On that same day, Chuck published a blog about death as an advisor, written long before any of this happened. You can read that here.

How can death possibly be an advisor? Death stalks us all—all the time. Nobody is special. We all die. It was Fifi’s time, but it was not my daughter’s time. Death, however, took a look out his window at her as he sped off, challenging her. “I didn’t get you this time,” Death said, “but I’m real. So what are you going to do now?” This is an important wake up call for all of us, delivered on a day of transition. It’s time to break the routines, to leave the old world behind, to move on without regret into new life, a life of meaning, compassion, and spirit.

My daughter was not in the wrong place at the wrong time, she was in the right place at the right time to receive some important personal messages. In fact, we are all being delivered the same core message: We are all mortal beings who are going to die one day. Will we face death as courageously as Fifi and my daughter did?

Patterns of Fifi's life... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Patterns of Fifi’s life…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Death is all around us. Lately, it seems to be here in abundance. Are we finally ready to hear what death is telling us? The message now is very clear. Things have to change if the world is going to progress in the right direction. Can we use that knowledge? Death challenges us to break our complacent routines and move on to what matters most. It’s never too late.

With love and gratitude to Fifi and my daughter Maggie for sharing their experiences with us,

These are the events that guided us through the grand time of transition, through both departures and new beginnings.

As I wrote this blog, I remembered that hawk is a messenger and, when hawk comes, often a message is to follow. Hawk stayed around for several days and we did get several messages, which I have tried to elaborate on in this blogpost. Like death it stalked Fifi and also brought messages of new life to my daughter. In our moments of awakening and transformation we realize there really is no death, no end, there is always new life. Our ultimate challenge: Can we find it in us to thank our antagonists, our messengers, death in this case, for guiding us to new life? I could go on and on, but this post is already very long, so I will stop here.

Here is an essay by Oliver Sacks as he makes decisions about what is most important in his own life now, as he faces his own death: Oliver Sacks.

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