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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Murder…On a Summer Morning…

Crime sceneI was never much a fan of the murder-mystery…and not because most of it is pulp fiction, Class B literature. No, it’s not that I’m a literary snob but because I never seem able to put two and two together, add one clue to the next, to figure out whodunit. I guess you might call me the Dr. Watson (Sherlock Holmes)and Paul Drake (Perry Mason) of the murder-mystery scenario. I needed a Miss Marple (Agatha Christie) to sift the evidence for clues, gather all the suspects together in one room, flesh out the details, present the evidence to the congregation, and then point the accusatory finger at the the guilty party.

“Ratiocination”: the process of adding up one clue at a time until a crime or mystery is solved is at the core of the murder-mystery literary genre. The device was the invention of, surprisingly, not  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes, but our own American short story master Edgar Allen Poe. His story “The Purloined Letter” served as the prototype of successive mystery stories and novels, and from there the copycats took over.

I readily admit I’m a bit obtuse when it comes to solving mysteries (such as how it came to pass the other day one of our drinking glasses turned up shattered at the end of our driveway), but this morning, to my surprise, I solved a crime…and a murder, no less. I must have come along shortly after it happened, even saw the “perp” fleeing the scene, although at the time I was unaware I was watching a killer escape. It was only when Gladys and I glided past The Barrell Man’s house on our return trip that I noticed the evidence strewn across his yard, put two and two together and realized I had stumbled upon a crime scene.

The first Eurasian-collared doves appeared in the Valley about three and a half years ago last spring—about the same time as the debut edition of The Ripple rolled off the press. The Collared dove—ring doves, we call them because of the Nike-like black slash across the nape of their necks—are immigrants from the southeastern U.S. Why they decided to move to Washington State and the Valley away from those sunny southern climes is a mystery to me. Their obnoxious cooing, aside from the morning rush hour traffic, is one of the first sounds I hear these summer mornings. I grew up in the orchards of Eastern Washington where the gentle cooing of a Mourning dove in the still of the morning was a soothing wakeup call. These ring doves, however, have a most irritating sound. It has the same effect on me as that rapping thing one does with one’s knuckles, you know, that succession of raps that is supposed to conclude with a resounding double rap—except the ring dove call omits the double rap; it aborts in an unfinished sort of way. Hearing those irritating bleats drifting on the morning air assaults the nerves, compromises a bit the pleasure of that first sip of morning coffee. And the pesky things are everywhere in the Valley; I see them on the electrical wires along my bicycle route; I hear their cries as I pass by trees; they splash about in our backyard birdbath. We used to have a small population of Mourning doves in the Valley. A pair used to visit our feeder in the spring, but they come no more; their ring-necked cousins have bullied them to parts unknown.

I saw it gliding silently away from The Barrell Man’s two-thirds of a walnut tree (the remaining third fell victim to a severe spring pruning). A Cooper’s hawk, it was. “Hunting for breakfast,” I thought at the time. Not until my return when I saw the evidence scattered about the lawn did my epiphany occur. The hawk wasn’t hunting for breakfast; it had just finished breakfast. All that remained of its morning repast was a pile of gray feathers. Then I remembered, “Ah, yes…hadn’t I seen a pair of ring doves from time to time foraging beneath the feeder hung in the walnut tree?” Thanks to Mr. Cooper one Valley ring dove will coo incompletely no more.

It was not the first time I had come across such a crime scene. Then, as now, the evidence was a ring of feathers on a lawn. Two springs ago I looked out the kitchen window to see a Cooper’s hawk sitting in the backyard. The bird was feasting away on something, ripping and tearing at its flesh. With each slashing of its beak a dusting of feathers rose and drifted on the breeze. Whatever morsel the hawk was dining upon was obviously beyond any rescue on my part, so I let the bird polish off its meal at its leisure. After Mr. Cooper fled the scene of the crime, I went to investigate. All I found was a ring of mottled feathers, a pair of legs, claws yet attached, and a horny yellow beak. No need to run the DNA; it was obvious there was one less starling to pester the chickadees at the suet feeder. The upshot of this is that serial killers are at work in the Valley, but I doubt very much anyone will miss the victims. feathered evidence

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