Jason Morgan pulled onto the long manicured drive of Westlawn Cemetery and proceeded beyond the office building. At the base of the hill he took the appropriate lane continuing up the hill until the pavement ended. Following the gravel another two-hundred yards until it also gave out, he turned a left onto a dirt track until it ended in a turnaround. He parked his SUV and began removing his gear and tools. Less than fifty feet away he could see the headstone of his brother’s grave.
The original grave location had been back down the hill fairly close to the cemetery entrance, but less than a week after his brother’s burial, Jason had received a call from the cemetery manager demanding his brother’s exhumation. Several birds of prey had taken up residence and were depositing their dead or dying catch on and around the grave. Attempts to remove the birds from the premises had been futile and after contacting the State Game Commission for some hopeful assistance, they were bruntly informed that it is illegal to dislodge any birds of prey from any nesting or resting perch.
The manager decided that since the hawks and falcons could not be moved, then the grave which seemed to be their primary area of deposit certainly could be relocated. Jason was given two options. He could pay for his brother’s exhumation and transporting fees to another cemetery, and the new burial plot at the new cemetery, or allow them to move his brother to the far corner of the existing cemetery, which they offered to do at a minimal charge. Robert’s grave now sits alone at the far corner of the property in an undeveloped, brush covered parcel nearly five acres in size. The majority of this parcel is covered in blackberry and scrub brush, but the grave diggers had at least used their equipment to clear a buffer strip around the grave and an approach from the turnaround.
Two more weeks passed before yet again Jason received another call from the cemetery. It seems the birds liked the new location even better and their deposits of animal carcasses were piling up rather quickly. Jason was informed that with the summer weather approaching they expected him to keep his brother’s gravesite clean to keep the smell from becoming a nuisance.
Jason donned chest protector, knee pads, welder’s gloves, and helmet with its makeshift wire-cage face shield. Gathering his shovel, rake and four five-gallon buckets with lids, he headed towards Robert’s grave. He began picking up the furthest carcasses first, and no sooner had he started and the first attack came. The Harris hawk swooped in low and caught Jason with a glancing blow to the back of his right shoulder. Jason quickly returned to his task knowing the sooner this nasty chore was over the better.
The Gyr falcon came in screeching and slapped Jason’s helmet chipping paint and leaving two three-inch scratches in the fiberglass. The Harris hawk made one more swooshing pass without making contact. Jason sealed off a bucket and began with number three. He couldn’t believe the variety of dead game he was picking up, everything from mice to someone’s pet dachshund. Here a goose, there a cottontail. In the bucket went a mallard skeleton, a rattlesnake, three quail, a half of a cat, two pigeons, and a multitude of other critters.
Jason was picking up his tools and buckets in preparation to leave when the Peregrine falcon made its deathly dive. By chance Jason saw the falcon’s shadow closing on his own and dove sideways just in time to avert the ripping claws. He quickly tossed everything in the back of his vehicle and without taking time to remove his protective gear jumped into the driver seat as the Gyr falcon swooped over the car hood in a blur.
Jason started his car and turned to take one last look and read his brother’s headstone before leaving.
Robert Franklin Morgan
Beloved Son, Brother
and Master Falconer