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Volume 14, Issue 43 ~ October 26 - November 1, 2006

Earth Journal by Gary Pendleton

How the Grouse Got Its Name

An October Fairy Tale

This story took place in the nearby far-away of Allegany County, a place far different from tidewater Maryland yet within the Chesapeake watershed. Also, I should say that no wildlife was injured in this strange-but-true tale.

So, this grouse walks into a campsite …

I was spending the night in Savage River State Forest. At sunset on a beautiful evening, I was hunkered all by myself in a gloomy, wooded camp with no view at all. Company would have been welcome.

Then the chicken-like bird ambled up.

It was a ruffed grouse. It came up very close, so I got a wonderful look at its beautiful, silken gown-like plumage. Seeing the lovely coat of feathers on the live bird, at such close range — it was nearly standing on my feet — was a surpassing treat. I was delighted at my good luck. Here was company.

The bird was a vocal grouse. It made a variety of cooing and clucking sounds, and it was expressive, even dramatic, in its pronouncements. It was agitated, it was complaining. I was being groused at by a grouse, and I was beginning not to like it.

It was so surreal that I imagined I was in a fairy tale. Would this be the day to meet my first talking animal? Was the forthright bird there to teach me a profound lesson?

Then the bird attacked. I turned away, and it lunged for my pants cuff. This grouse was no chicken.

I snapped a few pictures despite the lack of light and the uncooperative nature of the subject. But I couldn’t sit down, drink a beer and eat my dinner of summer sausage, cheese, crackers and apple. I had to keep my eye on the bird.

Suddenly, from close range, it went for the seat of my pants.

When it attacked the third time, I grabbed a stick. Attempting to scare the bird away, I swung about a foot above its pea-brained, walnut-sized head. That just made it madder.

Now it was acting like it truly wanted to fight. I mean fight me, right there, in my camp, with the sun going down. Me vs. the grouse. That was the scene, believe it or not.

I was exasperated, surprised and highly amused.

Then I considered just how many grouse the magnificent Savage River State Forest could support. There must be thousands of grouse in those woods. Judging from my predicament, I thought there might be an over-population. I realize this is not scientific proof, but at the time it seemed plausible.

Considering its pugnacious behavior, that little bantam rooster of a grouse was probably a male. If so, his survival would not be very important; from an ecological point of view, almost insignificant. Or so I rationalized. At this point I remind you that no wildlife was injured in this incident.

As I pondered, the grouse returned to the edge of the campsite, and I looked for more weapons material. That grouse was not going to get the best of me, though it seemed to be doing so, up to that moment.

Have you ever seen a grouse take off like a cannon-ball shot from the forest floor? You are more likely to hear than see it.

That was how the encounter ended. The bird took off with a boom that seemed directed at me, and I felt it.

What happened just before he took off I won’t say. But it was the bird that got the last word in the incident of the grouse in the near-by far-away woods of Allegany County.

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