for the birds
I have a story to tell.
Well. More of a confession.
I am the Peace Vally Cardinal.
It started out as a goof.
Some years back, the details (as they often are) a little blurred by time and the distance I’ve come as a human being, I had the fortune of ‘acquiring’ a quite nice mascot uniform from a rival high school; The Lincolnshire Cardinals. It was just before our team played them in an important game and I came to the conclusion that they’d have little use for their mascot that day so I ‘acquired’ it the night before.
No one could ever know I was the culprit so it was boxed up and exiled to my attic. After a few moves I no longer even remembered I had it. It became just one more box filled with artifacts of my youth.
Then one day I found it.
It was packed in the same box as some of my old records.
In particular Heroes by David Bowie. The album I had taped off when I made my ‘going to England as an exchange student’ tape. Suddenly for a few minutes I was back on the beach at Brighton watching the waves roll up towards my feet and listening to it in my headphones. Feeling the distance between us. Every inch of ocean.
I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins
Like dolphins can swim
Will keep us together
We can beat them
For ever and ever
Oh we can be Heroes
Just for one day
Holding up the vinyl I couldn’t help wondering where she was now.
But I digress.
Because under this LP was the mascot uniform.
I had a great idea. I would make a YouTube video! All of a sudden it came together in my head. I would remake the Patterson-Gimlin film except wearing a giant bird suit. It would be funny right?
Things started well enough and it turns out there’s a state park close by that happens to offer terrain almost identical to the setting of the Bigfoot footage. Problem was that I didn’t have a partner in my crime so I couldn’t get the jerky motion required to accurately duplicate the footage. How do you approach one of your friends and ask that they film you in a bird mascot outfit?
I couldn’t do it.
So I was packing up to leave when I saw a group of bird watchers on a nearby bridge that spans this large tributary that runs into the lake in which the entire park surrounds.
It had to be fast.
I couldn’t make it something where they could all train their binoculars on and easily make out that it was a moron in a mascot uniform. These birders are serious about what they do so I had to be subtle and quick about it.
I picked 2 points. One where I could approach unseen and begin my dash across their line of sight and another where I could finish and make my way back to my car without being seen.
With that I made my dash and hoped a few of them might happen to glance over in my direction.
I’m not sure how a 6′ 5 bird would run so I did this little hop every few steps and tried to keep the wild flapping of my wings to a minimum.
Next thing I knew my head was off and I was seated in my car and driving away from the park.
It had begun.
The Peace Valley Cardinal had come into existence.
Or Cardinalis Enormous as the ornithologists came to call me/it.
As soon as I arrived home I realized some light tailoring was in order if I was to take this little ‘lark’ further. (Get it? Lark? Larks are birds too.) I couldn’t have any zippers or seems showing. Soon my costume was complete and ready for ‘the show’.
On the other side of the lake, by the Nature Center, there is a small bird blind that I have been known to frequent. It’s very relaxing and just as the sun sets you’ll get a nice collection of not only cardinals, doves and the odd oriole but a nice assortment of hummingbirds and the occasional owl.
I made my first appearance about four months ago.
Again, very subtle. I was deep in the woods and only spent a very short time in view of anyone. I crept up. Appeared to forage around for a few moments and then beat a quick retreat when I heard a commotion in the blind. After stashing the outfit in my trunk I innocently walked up to see what all the ruckus was about and learned all about the Cardinal Rex that had just been spotted again.
It was really quite a rush.
I happened to stop by the following evening and let me tell you a seat inside that blind was harder to get than front row tickets to Pearl Jam.
I waited 2 weeks to make a return appearance.
This time I just ran at the blind as though enraged and beat my wings against the side of the wood structure as I listened to the terrified inhabitants shriek and cry inside. I’m not sure what my little whistles sounded like muffled inside my head but they must have lent a very eerie soundtrack to the already unsettling scene.
And just as quick I disappeared into the forest.
That was the first time I made the local papers.
The following weekend I even joined a group of birders in searching the woods for proof of this strange visitor. Obviously there were those people who thought the whole thing a hoax, along the lines of a Bigfoot or Loch Ness thing, but there were some among the group who were convinced that this big red bird was the missing link between our 2008 avians and the dinosaurs.
Who was I to argue?
Then the Fish & Game folks showed up. Somehow somebody from the State had gotten wind of my shenanigans and decided to investigate. Are you aware that pretending to be a 6′ 5 cardinal in a State Park is illegal? Neither was I.
Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.
I jumped out from behind a tree and scared a group of school kids on a field trip half to death (intentional) and sent an elderly couple to the emergency room to be ‘evaluated’ after running headlong into the glass door of the gift shop (unintentional). After those two incidents I laid low for a few weeks but soon got the itch again.
Sometimes it was just standing a few feet inside the tree line by the side of the road just to watch the occasional car swerve or break suddenly as they caught a glimpse.
Sometimes it was standing in the creek splashing water under each wing until I realize I’m being watched and then taking off in a wild panic. My beak swiveling this way and that, starting off in one direction and the just as quickly breaking back the other way.
One time, when spotted by a couple of male teenagers, I simply stared back at them until finally lifting my wing and pointing at them.
Then I slowly motioned them over.
They broke and ran.
I guess any forest creature can be intimidating if 500 times their normal size.
I started a scrapbook of my exploits.
Sometimes I appeared in the news, just as often in the police blotter.
How did it end?
Funny story that.
Turns out that there was someone out there who recognized the mascot outfit. I should have pieced it together when I saw an alumni update e-mail from my old high school that included an article on how our school mascot costume had recently been stolen.
I should have seen it coming.
You see my school mascot is the Blue Jay.
I was just coming into view of the bird blind when I saw it. The unmistakable sight of that large blue bird head. It was headed right for me.
I can only imagine the reaction of the people inside the blind as they saw the 6′ 5 cardinal get tackled by the slightly smaller but just-as-disproportionately-large blue jay.
I had not expected the frontal assault and went down hard, twisting my wing badly. This blue jay meant business. It was on me like white on rice and I could only distantly hear the chaos that had erupted in the bird blind.
Suddenly I remembered the article online on how our school mascot had been stolen. It made no sense though, why would this feathered vigilante come after me? Nobody even knew about me ‘acquiring’ the cardinal costume.
Well almost nobody.
I swept the legs out from under my avian adversary and quickly assumed the mounted position. Ready to rain down blows should my hypothesis be wrong.
I pulled off the blue jay head and saw I had been correct.
It was my high school girlfriend.
“I always pictured you more as a swallow.”
I had done it. I had come up with the perfect thing to say in the strangest situation imaginable. I was indeed a man with wit to spare!
She smiled broadly and I started to climb off her when I heard approaching footsteps.
Two of them. Big too and unless I miss my guess one of them is holding a taser or tranquilizer gun. What is cardinal for “don’t tase me bro!”?
We started to make a dash for it but in our cumbersome outfits we were too clumsy to get away.
I knew what I had to do.
“Get away! Save yourself Crazyass!” I waved at her, shouting through my papier-mâché head for her to get out of there. Not to look back.
Then I turned back toward the Rangers. I ran at them.
I could hear the song in my head again.
I can remember
By the wall
And the guns
Shot above our heads
I heard the warning but kept on running at them. Wings apart. Making whatever noise I thought a giant attacking cardinal would make. I wanted to give those inside the blind their money’s worth.
I was unaware that a tranq dart will go right through a mascot uniform.
It does. I felt the pain explode in my leg.
I fell into the mud.
And we kissed
As though nothing could fall
Things got blurry around the edges. Very dizzy. Things going black. I could still see her smiling face though. I could still hear the song. I could still hear the waves.
Oh we can beat them
For ever and ever
Then we can be Heroes
Just for one day