Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bird Tales

This little essay mentions the mockingbird that my grandmother kept as a pet for awhile.

Sometimes I wonder if punishment awaits me for feeling more sympathy and concern for animals than for the hapless victims of world wide tragedies that parade across the TV screen until the blood and gore lose their power to shock and dismay.  Surely this is wrong of me, but I cannot feel a suitable guilt.  So be it.

For two days I have been observing a drama, a struggle for survival in my own back yard and it seems a little Bosnian conflict of closer concern.  A pair of blue jays continue to fight valiantly to save their baby from hunger and stalking cats.  He is fully feathered but not quite able to fly.  Velveeta, the next door manx and Pawla, Cindy’s six-toed tabby, were waiting their chance to snatch him when I first realized the problem.  The two parents scolded and dive-bombed and routed both cats.  Crippled as I am by semi-successful knee surgery, I still felt impelled to help if I could.  Crippled as the baby jay was by his inabilities, he could still just keep out of my reach until Nipper perceived the situation, dashed in and held him down with his muzzle until I could pick him up, feeling my own head being under fluttering attack by the parent birds.

A few years ago I would probably have caged and fed the little critter for a few days until he was better able to manage on his own.  Now, mindful of my own shortcomings and the admonitions of wild lifers to let nature take its course, I placed the nestling in the crotch of the elm tree and hoped he’d have sense enough to stay there.  He did for a while, but later I heard him sounding off in the clump of monkey grass beneath my bathroom window.  Both parents were perched in the fence nearby.  Also keeping a concerned eye on the situation was good neighbor cardinal, who reminded me of the way my mother used to wring her hands and worry about the neighbor’s small children playing in the street.  It was so plain that the cardinal was as concerned about that baby jay as if it had been one of her own.

I have noticed before now the curious relationship between different species of birds that frequent the yard.  The mockers seem to consider themselves a bit above all the others.  Blue jays and cardinals consider themselves equals and co-exist in friendly fashion, sharing bushes and bird bath without antagonism.  Doves and woodpeckers pass through peacefully enough, stopping only briefly.  They all agree on hating the black birds and putting them off the property with dispatch.  This is no doubt due to their nest-raiding, baby eating habits.  Nobody likes a kidnapper.

Never considering myself to be a card carrying bird lover, I have nevertheless had some interesting experiences with them over the years.  I remember coming home from a ramble in the woods feeling saddened by finding a nest of little bleached skeletons and wondering what had happened to the mother.  Later on I smuggled home a meadowlark with a broken wing found lying on the school ground.  I hid him in a shoebox inside my desk and took him home that afternoon, splinted and bandaged the wing, and placed him in a cage with food and water.  When the wing was healed and usable again, I set the bird free, and felt a tug when he kept returning to me, unwilling to leave.

A few years later, I picked up a tiny mocker that was almost drowned in a cow track filled with water from an overnight shower.  My mother wrapped his bedraggled little body in a piece of old cloth and laid him on the open oven door to dry out.  We all considered him a lost cause, but we fed him every hour, minded the cats outdoors, and talked to him until he took heart and decided to live.  Knowing it was not legal to keep a mocker in captivity, we fully intended to set him free as soon as he was old enough to go, but we reckoned without him.  He refused to go.  Placed on the front walk, he huddled down and hid his head under his wing, terrified to move.  It was keep him or let him be eaten by the cats.  He lived in his big cage on the front porch for two years, singing so loudly on moonlight nights that someone would have to drape a shirt around his cage so that those in the house could sleep.  He never knew the joys of tree-top tumbling song on full-moon nights.

I’m glad to have 30 eye-witnesses to attest one of my bird tales.  This happened during my school teaching days in Smiley.  Sparrows built nests in the drains along the roof of the two-story high auditorium wing of the high school building just across the school yard from my class room.  One morning we became aware that one of the baby birds had tumbled from a nest and the parents had him located on the ground below.  There was absolutely no way that we could help rescue him.  Thirty pairs of eyes watched during lessons, some trusting their teacher to do some miracle and save that baby bird.  After a miserable, suspenseful hour, we saw something we had trouble believing.  The parents managed somehow to maneuver their baby onto the back of one of them and flew him back up to their lofty nest.  We may not have gotten all our lessons done that day, but thirty kids and 1 teacher went home with a deep feeling of satisfaction.  We had seen our miracle.

Now I’m hoping for another one.  Somehow I hope that baby jay manages to beat the odds and survive the dozen cats and thousands of fire ants that could do him in.  He’s made it for two days.  All is quiet in the yard this morning, except for bird song.  Rejoicing or requiem?  I cannot tell.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wish It Was Still Around

This little essay comes from a small pile of notebook pages that I just unearthed while shifting things around for the great remodel of 2012-2013.  I think it was intended to be included in one of the annual family newsletters, but it may have been something that she wrote with the intention of sending it to Reminisce Magazine.

Last night I tossed a package of popcorn into the microwave and as I stood there waiting for the last few kernels to explode, my mind recalled the process of performing this same task in those long past childhood days of fifty years ago.

We grew our own popcorn patch then, a few acres near the fields of regular corn.  At harvest time we stored the small ears in one corner of the corn crib.  About once a week the five kids in the family would race to the barn and bring a bucket full of shucked ears to the house.  Then followed the task of removing the small, tightly packed kernels from the cobs.  The older kids showed the younger ones how to rub the cob of the first ear and twist it just so in order to shell the rest.

Mother would have a hot fire built in the black kitchen stove by the time we were finished with the shelling.  The cobs were always added to the fire.

When the big dish pan was mounded with hot popcorn, drizzled with a little melted country butter and lightly sprinkled with salt, the feast began.  The whole family gathered around one pan, chattering, laughing, sharing school experiences, plans for the future, disappointments, and recent triumphs.  We shared more than popcorn and fed more than we knew.  It was a feast of family togetherness.