Serenity’s Strength

Sitting high on a roof, its solemn expression revealing nothing and implying profound thought, it would be easy to see the dove’s existence as carefree and without burden. And yet, things happen, and as many things are in life, this belief is influenced by poor perspective. What we see as a simple and innocent representative of peace and love is, in truth, an example of determination and strength if only we place our eyes at their level and see their world.

The sun was just beginning to turn the blue-black sky a little gray at the east edge when the dove stirred from his nest. It had been his turn to watch the eggs last night, a task he shared with his mate. She sat just a foot away on the branch where their nest was tucked into a forked spot. Her brown eyes, ringed with pink, were closed as she rested. Her breath was slow and calm, her breast feathers barely moved. He watched her for awhile and wondered when she might decide it was light enough for her to take over sitting on the eggs. He was uncomfortable and every few moments he shifted his weight on the small ovals his soft feathers covered. It wouldn’t be long now before the eggs hatched, since he could feel the movements within the shells against his sensitive underside. It made him pleased. As soon as they were hatched there would be far more work involved, however this was his life’s work, and it brought a small feeling of contentment as he watched his mate rest, he saw the light in the east grow from a small, almost imperceptibly dim flame to a conflagration of red and yellow reaching bands across the sky.

When a small shaft of light shot through the tree limbs and touched his mate’s face, her brown eyes opened and looked at him. She opened her beak, stood, and flapped her wings a bit to shake off some of the night’s stiffness. As she walked towards him she began her familiar coo, soft, warm and low, and only for him. Reaching him, she preened him with her beak gently and he leaned into it. Not many things in a dove’s life were better than this, and he always enjoyed a bit of a scratch after a long night of tending the eggs. He returned her soothing song as the sky brightened further into dawn and a tip of golden orb edged over the horizon.

“John, I really wish you would get your rear over here and see this spot I’ve picked out!” Jesse spoke softly but firmly to his hunting partner who still stood by the grey Ford pick-up trying to wrestle his gear out of the back. John was new to hunting in general, but today Jesse was going to show him why doves were America’s favorite game birds. Or that’s what the brochure at the local ammo store had assured him, as Jesse had never shot a dove in his life. He’d done some hunting with his father up in a tree stand in the wee hours of the morning, but nothing like this. Of course, he’d rather John not know that. Jesse was 25 and John was 18, and he had an image to protect in front of his young friend. That meant something, out here in God’s country, where people were real people and country music reflected their moral values. Real music, not that crap the people who visited from the city listened to. That’s right, Jesse thought as he crouched in the tall field grass that still had sunflowers poking out of it. God, country, my beer, my pick-up and my old lady. Those were the only things a man could really count on in this life. He breathed in a deep drag of clean air and felt thankful for it all.

At last, John made it to the area Jesse had selected for their cover. Naturally, Jesse had left him to drag the cooler full of Budweiser, the chairs and the ammo all on his own. John privately felt that Jesse was kind of a self-important moron, but he’d rather Jesse didn’t know that. Besides, the other guys in his crowd looked up to Jesse, and in turn looked on John with more respect because Jesse bothered to breathe the same air. One had a reputation to think of, yessir, out here in God’s country. City-folk had no idea how pointless their lives truly were, and how much fulfillment a man could derive from the simple pleasures in life. Now he really felt like a man, too, with his beer and his gun and his goofed-up friend at his side. John plopped down one of the chairs in the muddy field grass next to Jesse, collapsed into it, popped the top on a Bud and felt thankful for it all.

In the tall, golden weeds the farmer had missed when he was mowing, two men in camouflage were whispering and drinking their beer, discussing strategy for when the dove hunt would begin. Jesse was giving sage advice to his friend about how to aim, how to keep very still because doves spook so easily, and how to properly hold the shotgun so you didn’t end up with a really sore shoulder. John took it all in, and gazed into the copse of locust and walnut trees that was about fifty feet in front of them. Between them and the trees was a low place in the field where water was standing, and Jesse had placed their dove decoys along the edge of this temporary watering hole earlier, betting that the doves they had previously seen flying in large groups in the area would use the trees as cover and the muddy water dip as their loafing spot. As dawn brightened the landscape all around them, all the two men had to do was wait.

The male dove rose from the nest and flapped his wings in the cool morning air. Morning was the time that doves typically flew off to find water to drink and splash in, and hopefully a great deal of seeds now that the farmer had harvested his wheat. It was a perfect place for all of those things, and as the dove strutted from his place on the nest and allowed his mate to take his place, gladly, he stood on the branch and surveyed the land with his sharp, penetrating eyes through the tree branches. The leaves in the trees were just beginning to turn color, and the air was crisp and full of good smells to the bird. The time of harvesting for humans was a harvest to all animals. Scanning the area, he saw an area about twenty feet beyond the trees that had standing water. Other doves were already there around the edge of the water, and he stretched one leg out behind him lazily, preparing slowly for his flight.

The morning wore slowly on as the sun became fully visible. On his fourth Bud, Jesse was glassy-eyed, red-cheeked and animate. He talked on and on about how the best shots were to be taken, how to make every move. John had begun to wonder if he would ever shut up, as he popped the top off his fifth beer, and sneered as he gazed out over the field and watched the sun rising ever higher in the sky. Listening to Jesse was really getting on his nerves, and while it was probably the beer forming some of the thoughts, John wondered why Jesse thought he was such hot stuff, anyway? Why did all the girls think he was, too? Wasn’t he the one who treated them well? Opened doors for them? Didn’t he smile at them and act friendly? Yet they all ended up with Jesse, attracted to his dark hair, stubbly beard and nonchalant behavior. The more he thought of it the angrier he got. It was almost as if the less you seemed to be interested in girls, the more interested they were in you. Particularly that one red-headed girl in math class whom he’d tried so hard to make smile at him. Naturally, though, when he went out drinking on the weekends with Jesse, who was older, had money and apparently some kind of mysterious charm the girls all fell for, it was Jesse who had gotten that smile from the red-haired girl. He and Jesse and some guys from town had been standing in the bar parking lot, hoisting a few brews and laughing about nothing anyone could remember. There she was, with her girlfriends, walking down the main street in town. It hadn’t been John who had gotten that smile, but Jesse, who could care less because he had a string of other women ready to fall into his arms. Jesse hadn’t even noticed her hot gaze and sly curve of her lips as she appraised him. It was more than aggravating, it was infuriating, and the longer Jesse talked, the nastier the resentment tasted that bubbled from his guts.

John shifted in his seat. “This ground is really muddy, even over here,” he interrupted Jesse’s latest lesson to observe quietly. The legs of both their folding chairs were sinking into the muck. Jesse didn’t reply, but reached for another beer. It was a good thing, John observed, that he had brought along so many beers from his father’s stash in the refrigerator at home. It was a stunt he would probably pay dearly for later, and this thought made him resent Jesse even more.

“Quiet,” Jesse said, though no one had been speaking. “I’m hearin’ some flapping in the trees in that locust grove. Now, when they come out, remember what I told you. I’m telling ya, this is going to be great!” John pouted, but kept his unsteady gaze on the watering spot with the white and gray decoys positioned around it.

“Maybe we used too many decoys? I mean, they really…” John was silenced by a sharp blow to his right arm from Jesse. “Shhhhhh!” he hissed, only it came out “shubbuuhsss.” because by this time, both he and Jesse were well on their way to being pretty sloshed. John rubbed his arm where Jesse had hit him and felt white-hot anger flare up inside. Drunk or not, Jesse was an overbearing dope who needed to be put in his place, and John was feeling he was just the man to do it. Just as he was forming some muddled ideas about how to accomplish that, they both heard the flapping coming from the trees.

The dove was done stretching and decided now was as good a time as any. With a glance at his mate, who had settled onto the eggs and looked peaceful, he spread his wings to go. She tilted her head at him in a quick, jerky fashion, as if to say she found him impressive and was taking in the site of him. He was her mate for life, and seemed strong and competent. They were a good match and this was their third and last nest of the year. With so many predators against them like the blue jays and hawks, and their primary adversary, man, they had managed to have a good year. Suddenly, he flapped his creamy-white wings and was off the branch, headed to the pool of water.

From their cover in the weeds, Jesse and John saw the male dove swoop from the cover of the trees and make his way to get a drink at the field puddle. They both went momentarily motionless and barely breathed, in spite of their decreased control over their movements due to the booze. Jesse had, at last, stopped talking, and was reaching down to get his gun ready. It was only one dove that had shown up, but at that moment it seemed very important that he be the one to shoot it. If for nothing else, to show John how it was done. It would make for great story telling down at the bar tonight.

John, unnoticed by Jesse, already had his gun to his shoulder and was aiming. The tip of it wobbled uncertainly as John attempted to gain enough control over his arms to get a clean shot at the dove. At the puddle, the dove had landed next to one of the decoys and began drinking the water, apparently unaware his drinking buddies were made of wood. In truth, it took the dove no length of time to understand something was wrong with them. They gave themselves away in every unnatural thing about them, including scent. However, he didn’t have the understanding to know what the differences meant at first, and they didn’t seem to be dangerous in any way, so he fell for their general appearance long enough to get him to light there.

Slowly, half-standing from his chair, John was ready to make his shot. Jesse was still messing with his gun when he realized that John was moving next to him, and his alcohol-muddled thinking took a few moments to realize his moment was about to be stolen.. John had, at last, got his arms to stop waving about and now the gun held steady. He began to apply pressure on the trigger just as Jesse rose wordlessly and angrily gave him a hard shove. Surprised and off-balance, John stumbled and his feet slid with the force of the shove, bringing the barrel of the shotgun directly pointing at Jesse’s surprised face. At the puddle, the dove jerked to look towards the sounds coming just a few feet away from him and, sensing danger, he had taken to the air when the sharp explosion of the shot gun blast rang out.

High above the field, in the yet cool but warming air of a bright, September morning, two doves flew. His mate had joined him when she heard the gunshot, as doves tend to be on the flighty side. Once she had seen the male in flight and could see by his movements he had been frightened, she abandoned her nest and left with him. Things happened in nature with little apparent rhyme or reason. Sometimes snakes ate the eggs. Sometimes blue jays destroyed them before they were hatched. Hunters sometimes shot a mate and a whole season could be lost just looking to find another dove with which to pair-bond. Things happened. And as they soared high above two humans who had been hiding in the weeds, one crouched and making loud sounds, the other lying down on his side with the smell of blood nearby, they turned their heads into the brisk breeze and flew directly into it. That was the only way to handle life’s challenges: flying straight into the wind.

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