O n a beautiful early November day, my wife and I went for a walk along trail #36 in the Gatineau Park, starting from O'Brien parking lot.

As we rounded a curve along the trail we saw a couple standing almost still in the middle of the path intensely looking down at the ground. With all the fall-coloured leaves blanketing the landcscape it was hard, at first, to notice what they were staring at. Then the grouse (ruffed grouse; bonasa umbellus) came into focus. She was nervously circling the two hikers while emitting a soft clucking sound.


We stood motionless for a few minutes enthralled by the shenanigan of the hen, captivated by the rare opportunity of observing this beautiful wild creature in such proximity. Soon after the couple moved down towards us, and the grouse followed them in a hurry, seemingly herding them along the path. After exchanging a few words of surprise and enjoyment for the unusual encounter, and after throwing a couple of pieces of bread to the hen, which she completely disregarded, the two hikers moved along.

Shortly after the bird turned her attention towards my wife and I.

She circled us in a hurry nudging us along the path. At one point she suddenly jumped at my legs, perhaps not satisfied with my pace. I quickly turned around to see if she had finally given up the frantic chase ... but I hadn't noticed a protruding rock just behind my feet ... (I'm sure she had), I stumbled, lost my footing and I found myself laying on my back on the trail. I then noticed the hen running, spreading her wings and jumping, with steadfast fury and determination (I swear I saw a grin on her "face"), at my legs which by now were up in the air. I thought I was down for my final count ...Instinctively I tucked my legs to somehow soften the blow of the impact.

Laughters could be heard echoing in the forest ...

In the hallucination of the moment, in my brain rolled the slow motion images of a film portraying a surreal and ridiculous boxing match between two uneven weight division where the welterweight loses the match by KO to a light flyweight (in Italian: peso piuma=feather weight).

I could see the newspaper headlines: Italian hiker trampled by a mad hen in the Gatineau Park!

I got up as quickly as possible with as much dignity, albeit wounded, as I could muster under the circumstances. We gingerly moved along past the territory of the feathered monster. Meanwhile the hen had disappeared on the side of the trail, satisfied that her brood was now safe.

Meanwhile I am urgently revising my techniques for a possible encounter with a black bear seen roaming in this park ...

Comes to mind one of John Muir famous quotes: "In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks."

[1] Picture scanned from: Birds of Canada, by W. Earl Godfrey; colored illustrations by John A. Crosby; black and white illustrations by S. D. MacDonald; Canadian National Museum - 1967 (1976 edition)

A summary of this story was published in the daily newspaper "Ottawa Citizen", Saturday, November 12, 2005; page E16

Page created by giorgio zanetti; November 2005.