**First published in The Spectre Review Literary Magazine-Oct. 2021**
I know the real reason the Falcon Cam got taken down, and it has nothing to do with the cat, like everybody thinks. Most of us here at the Department of Conservation and Recreation contend the initial livestream was a sound idea. People from all over the globe were checking in regularly on the peregrine falcons that nested near the Visitor’s Center here on the Quabbin Reservoir. The DCR could use a bit of good press, our Division of Water Supply Protection does not get many opportunities to shine. It has been an uphill battle since the inception of the Windsor Dam and subsequent reservoir 80 years ago. A godsend for Boston: finally, a reliable and potable water source. Only snag was-they had to flood the Swift River Valley and the towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott to build it. Just 2,700 living inhabitants they kicked out, but more than 10,000 when you count the bodies that were exhumed. Turns out, they didn't get all of them. To be fair, those limbs the falcons were carrying were never under the soil.
It took 83 years, but it looks like the Ides boys finally let go. I like to think it was their promise that preserved them this long. You may not know about them, but anyone around here does. Amazing structures, them two. Half fish, half fox they said. Spent all their time outside amongst the twists and turns of the Swift River. Native Nipmuc called the area Qaben, or “well-watered place.” How prescient they were...
Story goes, those Ides boys hung so fast to that land, aint no flood was gonna move them. Theirs was a tale like so many others, run over by the state. It wasn’t a big, enormous wave of water that took the town. No, it was a slow, methodical push. A series of avoidable misfortunes befell the Ides family in the decades before the dam was built. Their outspoken nature made them targets of the powers that be. Grandparents, parents, kin of all kinds, ruined or killed. Now orphaned, there was no going back once eminent domain was claimed by the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Those boys made a promise to stay, and they kept it. They never accepted the money, $108 per acre, what a spit in the face. They stayed, clung to the ground, and let the water swallow them.
Ask any official tasked with working on the reservoir and they will tell you what the Ides done was a tragedy. ‘A macabre and disgusting portrayal of selfish pride,’ the papers said. The radio repeated it. Soon enough you’d think those boys were at fault not allowing the state to walk all over them. The only tragedy is actions such as this are the only voice some of us have.
Once the Goodnough Dike and subsequent Winsor Dam were finished it would be another eight years before the reservoir was “full.” Such cruelty to commit to a family. The state just drowned everything they built. Slowly, inch by inch, their farmland went from valley plain, to marsh, and now, basin. The people who flooded the valley won’t talk much about those boys and their bravery, their sacrifice. Us locals have all been secretly waiting, watching the waves to see what would surface.
I am getting ahead of myself. Let me reset. See, ten days ago Muriel Steinbrenner says her cat Cleo had gone missing. Muriel has worked here at Visitor’s Center since they revamped the place in the 80’s and knows everything there is to know about the reservoir and the valley. Her family had land in Dana, she prefers not to speak publicly on that topic. Now that I think of it, it was her beau Schriever that gave us the deal on the camera gear in the first place. Regardless, Muriel put on a good face, but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts she was tossing and turning every night, wondering if the same mystery would befall her four other cats.
Seven days ago, Muriel got her answer. Cleo showed up in the talons of momma falcon and was the unsuspecting star of a “circle of life” moment. Momma falcon proceeded to rip apart the feline for all 618 livestream participants. Cleo’s little bell on her collar rang with every jerk of the talon. Well, you know how fast things move today; a few hundred views quickly grew to 3,000, and then to 40,000 streams in a matter of minutes. Our site crashed due to all the traffic, but not before a couple folks recorded the live stream and strung it across the interwebs. Somewhere during that, the real hullabaloo kicked in.
Five days ago, the woke police, more of a mob if you ask me, read us the riot act. Some irate nanny thought it unconscionable to allow such brutality, let alone promote it. They claimed we were using our position to inflict pain and suffering. One complaint turned to 20, desktop warriors from across the globe descended on us. Backlash from across the digital stratosphere came stomping upon our good-natured forestry outlook. Calls came to close the park, for some reason. There was even a push to have the falcons euthanized so no more domestic cats would have to deal with this “most unnatural foe.”
At any rate, three days ago we decided it was best to keep the camera feed to the main office. It was part of the nature center’s offering and their deal with UMASS is ongoing. Sorry, Karens, we are mandated to keep an eye on these birds. All the same, we were sad to see the live stream get canned for the public. Boy howdy, it's a good thing we did it when we did. Else we would have been the talk of the country, and not in the good way, where folks jump in line to donate money. Due to all the cat backlash, the public never got to see the real nuisance. The pair of zombie boys whose dismembered parts floated to the surface of the reservoir. The reservoir that just happens to hold Boston’s drinking water.
Yesterday, I was chatting with Muriel in the break room and happened to glance at the monitor when I see an arm laying right there in the nest. An arm. Carrion for falcons was not natural, I knew something was amiss. Muriel said we needed to contact the authorities right away. I said we were the authorities, and besides, we didn’t know anything, could be a boating accident. Jesus, when I saw the insignia on the ring, I got the shivers. We were both impressed by the strength of that bird. What determination it must take to lift a severed limb out of the water, let alone all the way to the nest. It was clear, we needed to do more than watch, we needed to follow. We grabbed the binocs and waders and hit the trails; you won’t believe what we found.
It was clear from the onset the falcons were not hunting, per se. Locale lore says their avian wisdom had them collecting, inspecting, consulting the histories and the elders. Birds, as well as any, know the rights of death. The raven and the crow keep the Sacred Laws, namely, the right to rest when your dead-despite what you did during life. Incorporating other fauna to assist the falcons in the venture was easy to spot as the habits were rather curious
Muriel and I are not certain how it was determined, but the falcons have begun flying body parts to the Ides family plot in the Quabbin Park Cemetery. This feat was impressive, to say the least, a real work in concert. It starts with the fish, normally a secluded bunch, they splash the surface to signal the falcons when they see any bits bobbing in the water. The fowl then fly the extremities over to the new cemetery. There, the squirrels sort out the parts as they wait for the gophers to burrow to grave. There is some talk about what this will do to the boys. Can’t say for sure what they will do. They made a promise, and it’s clear that after all this time only rotted tendons could push them off course.
I don't know if those folks will ever find rest, but we will do what we can to help. All part of the ever-expanding duties of a Park Ranger. Some people think they were tricked, but those boys knew what they were doing. They knew what it meant to promise to stay. Through hell or high water…these two been through both, and you think a simple grave is going to keep them? Nah, these boys crave a home, I am betting they always will.
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