A Welcome Messenger Of Hope
I knew right away it would have to be a message of hope, this very simple story; in a way, perhaps I insisted on it...
It was during early July - a week of particularly sorrowful news: police shootings in Dallas, unspeakable violence going viral on video, racial tensions taut. I had just received an email that informed me of a double suicide within my Bering Sea tribe. That would be five now, familiar faces with strong ties to their own island, disappearing in their own despair; all gone in just a year and a half.
And the glimmers? They all started with a phone call from Fishers Island summer resident Bob Meyer.He reported a banded pigeon huddled beneath the telephone pole and osprey nest outside West Harbor.
It felt like the last thing I wanted to do on a Saturday evening, but the day had been a scorcher and thunder showers were expected to blow in, so I drove right away to meet Bob who was standing watch over this worn out feathered messenger.
Before I knew it I scooped up my now-passenger pigeon and headed home with the bird in the front seat, avoiding two unsettled ospreys circling overhead.
Swinging by the Village Market at closing hour I ran in and grabbed an empty Harpoon I.P.A. box from the help-yourself corner. I smiled, thanking the universe for any humor: I.P.A. - Island Pigeon Association.
By nightfall, tucked cozily in the box in a terrycloth nest, Harpoon sipped lots of water, poked and pecked at a bird seed mix with an added concoction of cracked corn, dry peas, grains, wild rice, even a plain Cheerio or two.
Clearly exhausted, this winged voyager would not fly. Looking like its city-pigeon cousins, Harpoon sat for days with feathers puffed up just outside my cottage under the shade of an elm tree.
While this particular naturalist doesn't happen to have a pigeon coop set-up, the neighborhood soon found out there was a grounded visitor and kind folks took the bird under their collective wing by keeping a careful look-out.
Marj Beck texted one evening and asked if I knew about a banded bird and sent a photo of what turned out to be Harpoon at the school playground! I could've sworn the pigeon was nestled just outside. By 6 a.m. the next morning I rode my bike by the school, but there was no sign of my feathered friend. By 6 p.m. Harpoon appeared back at the cottage, perched under the elm tree. The next day, pedaling east past the Parade Grounds, I waved down school custodian Tommy Doroshevich who was mowing the lawn.
"Hey Tommy, did you happen to see a banded pigeon around the playground yesterday?
"Yeah! It sat all day right outside your classroom - the third and fourth graders you always visit - right there under the window, all day.
I thought it fairly amazing: a bird walking what looked like two football fields away and later returning "home." Then I got goosebumps - the nice kind - when I remembered the date: the day my Mom had passed a couple years before.
I turned around and headed back home to catch Harpoon and decode the bright yellow band around its leg, labeled "49 IF NLI 2016." I jotted the numbers and letters down on scrap paper.
The "NL," which I supposed would be for "New London," turned into North Long Island.
The "IF" originally was the "Iffy" sensation I felt while trying to locate Harpoon's owner, but that turned into "International Federation." It appeared my messenger was of thoroughbred racing stock.
So I searched the internet, piecing together lost banded racing pigeons of 2016 and flight distances across Long Island Sound and Fishers Island Sound. After a few emails and phone messages, I tracked down Tom Newman, the head of the North Long Island branch of pigeon fanciers. Our conversation was pleasant, and of course I made sure to add a few remarkable elements.
"I think this bird is a bit special. It survived two cranky ospreys, walked to the school playground AND back, thankfully outwitted the dog next door chasing a tennis ball through the yard AND there is even a 'dove interest'," I said. (Harpoon being a fancier too.)
Then Mr. Newman added his own remarkable element: Harpoon originally had flown from Smithtown, N.Y. I did my own quick calculating: 151.3 miles away, 2 hours 54 minutes - but that's if the bird took I-95! Someone suggested the pigeon got blown off course and found Fishers Island.
But the question remained: Would Harpoon take wing and return to Long Island?
"Well, I know the owner and he'll have to figure out how to get the bird back," Newman said. "Does Fishers Island - I don't even know where it is - does the island ship live (animals)?"
"Wait a second. I'm not packing this pigeon up to be sent UPS," I said. "I think its owner should come pick it up. I don't think it wants a life of competing and racing around anyways." I was trying to be funny, but really wanted the owner to take some responsibility.
Days turned into weeks. I sent clever updates with photos to Mr. Newman, narrating Harpoon's love affair with a mourning dove, documenting my first ever Amazon order of pigeon grit, how far the bird walked as it rejuvenated. I even confided that on my birthday, Harpoon happened to fly for the first time up to my open window - the nicest present.
If it's true that home is where the heart is, then this creature must have felt comfortably at home because we formed a sweet bond - of hope I think it was. A simple pigeon trusted it would be cared for; in return, those heavy sorrows of early July that I has been carrying began to feel lighter with each day I spent with Harpoon.
One evening, three weeks to the day of Harpoon's arrival, I leaned my bike against the cottage gate and gave my routine call of "Harpooooon," with a bit of cooing.
Bursting out from atop the canopy of one of the tallest elms on Fishers Island, soaring and tumbling with what appeared to be effortless joy against a purple sky, there went Harpoon!
"May wherever you land feel like home," I thought