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09 March, 2009


So once again, I find myself trekking solo through the woods. Normally, not a problem. Bears and leeches still sleeping at this time of year, cougars prefer veal, and me and Sasquatch have a solid non-agression pact.

Then, the hair on my neck (recently challenging head hair for numerical superiority) stands on end. Under canopy under clouds, another layer of darkness congeals. And somewhere in it, something watches.

Suddenly, like a hooked chinook, my leg quivers, spine shivers, and liver flips. Then the mini-copter whumping of a grouse in flight. I must've practically stepped on it. A quick glance to see if someone has materialized to witness my scared little girl jump, and then onward.
I snap a photo, or at least try, because the bird keeps just enough distance to keep from becoming lunch. Grouse stupidity is renowned among many, and it's pathetic thespianism wasn't enough to fool even a theatrically illiterate chump such as myself; it was trying to divert my attention from the nest. On the other hand, altruism for the brood was not so strong that it wanted to martyr itself. That kind of bravery or stupidity is more common among your higher primates.
Now, since I could care less about eating birds smaller than my head, much less their eggs, said jungle-grouse could've returned home and put up the Mission Accomplished banner with no sense of irony.

But no. I walk away, and next thing you know, it's in front of me again. And again. 100 meters further, and still at it. Not so much leading away from the nest now, as bird-dogging me. Daring me to come after it. And as the sun sinks from its pathetic pre-vernal-equinoctal acme, and the gloom grows, I see its beady bird eyes glow.
Twice, I find myself lured off track by this bird, trying to get a better glimpse, a clearer photo, before snapping out of it. Ulysses' crew was drawn astray by beautiful sirens, and here I was about to head into the briar patch for a dumb bird. "Who's dumb now?" it would ask, cackling as I struggled to get free, or fell off a cliff, or sank into quicksand, all the while staring me down with those beady eyes, so seemingly empty of thought, but so full of malice.

Eventually, I managed to ignore it to death, or it just camouflaged itself out of my awareness. Back on the scent, I found sites spanning centuries, jotting notes, photographing artifacts, collecting GPS points. No bird curse caught me, no mishaps prevented my return.

But just before I got back to the truck, I saw them devil-eyes darting around, staring at me again. Taunting like the obnoxious guy who picks a fight and challenges you to throw the first punch, his lawyer lurking just out of sight, prepared to press cases both civil and criminal.

Not this time, bird. Not this time.

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