Monday, April 06, 2009

Baby Bird

That a baby bird is not a mammal should go without saying. Still, the tiny creature cradled in my older sister Alicia's arms gulped down the warm milk from the eye-dropper as if it were, in fact, a mammal, as if it would happily adapt itself to whatever sustenance we provided.

We found it flailing helplessly on the crackly hot sidewalk just past the Mooney house. Our parents had warned us of certain unnamable dangers lurking about that mustard-colored house, and our imaginations filled in the absence of tangible explanation like hot lava flowing into cracks. "They chop off your fingers and toes if you take one step on their grass," I guessed. "They hunt cats and trap them in the basement," Alicia retorted. "They suck out all the good juices in your body and replace it with evil poison," I said. "They grind up people and put them into pies," she shouted.

We weren't terribly young, naive or inexperienced. We knew the subject matter of real fear: Great-Grandfather "Papa" got sick, slowed to a shuffle and died; a giant mountain named after a Saint erupted seemingly without warning; classmate's houses caught fire. And each day with lived a peek-around-the-corner, tip-toe sort of life with our unpredictable mother, who might surprise us by cooking dinner or dismay us by staying in bed all day.

We knew the Mooneys weren't to blame for these things. Still, it felt good to volley crimes back and forth as we approached their house-- "They steal your clothes and make you run home naked!"-- then hold hands tightly and run past that ugly thing as fast as our skinny scabby bird-legs would carry us, savoring the delicious chill of concocted fear as it crept down our spines.

It had fallen from its nest, that poor little bird, and if we squinted our eyes against the sun and ignored the moving clouds, we could make out its former home in the branches high above us. We couldn't see the mother bird or hear any bird noises, not even from the baby on the ground. We debated what to do: climb up and put the baby bird back? "No, the mama bird will reject it once she smells human on it," my sister said sagely. So there was no choice but to scoop up that bird from the sidewalk and take it home and make it a new nest from an old shoebox that smelled like leather, shoe polish, and now grass since we added some clumps from our yard to make it homey.

As for food, I don't know whose idea it was to feed it warm milk from an eye-dropper. God knows we had food issues, with a mother half-starved by her own choosing. But her wrath was limited to herself; the rest of us may have been bony-legged but we were well-fed and well-loved, too. Perhaps the milk was our idea and nobody bothered to stop us. In any event, the bird gulped it down in big, thirsty swallows.

When we checked on it the next morning, the bird was still and rigid, nothing more than a stick with feathers. We weren't surprised, for as much as we loved the baby bird and wished it could stay, we knew deep down that we were only delaying the inevitable. In spite of experience, we were glass-half-full types of kids, and we knew that we'd done well to extend life, if only for a few hours.

We buried it near the perimeter of our back yard, shoe box and all, under a giant tree that was perfect for climbing. We retrieved one downy whispy feather from the box, poking it into the soft earth as a grave marker, knowing that the mother bird would recognize it if she ever came looking for her little bird. Perhaps we whispered a prayer; perhaps not. Either way, we most certainly held hands as we walked back toward our house to see about lunch.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

For the Love of Crows

I've never had much good to say about crows. In fact, I actually count crows among the most loathsome of all creatures. I see them as nasty, garbage-eating creatures, harbingers of disease and parasites. They watch the world with shifty black eyes, as if they're just waiting for us to die so they can swoop in and eat out our eyes while they're still gooey.

I still resent the crows, ten years later, for waking me up-- with their incessant CAW CAW CAW--at 5 a.m. when I was on an otherwise fun camping/rafting trip. Wiping the sleep from our eyes and unzipping our tent, we viewed the evidence of the crows' past triumphs: various bottles, cans, and even a shoe had been flung into the tree above us, no doubt in an attempt to silence those cacophonous birds.

As much as I hate them, I often find myself watching crows as I'm waiting for the city bus. Garbage Day coincides with one of my work-days on the street where I catch my bus. Garbage Day means the crows show up in droves, and I imagine them saying "mornin' Joe," and "mornin' Frank, how's the missus?" as they swoop in, finding themselves competing yet again for the same garbage. I imagine Joe sneaking into Frank's nest that night, stealing his copy of the City of Seattle Garbage Pick-up Schedule in an attempt to eliminate the competition.

I imagine all of this as a source of waiting-for-the-bus entertainment, but I give no credit to the crows for occupying my thoughts. I glare at them with detached distain, thinking myself superior.

So it was, this morning, that I eyed a crow warily as it came close to me at the bus stop. The crow pecked foolishly at a pebble, thinking it a morsel of food. Then it stopped, raised it's head, coughed, and then sneezed.

You heard me right. It coughed-- a gentle little "cah cah" not amounting to a CAW, accompanied by a little nod of its head. Then it sneezed-- a dainty little "chuh."

I nearly offered it a tissue.

And just like that, my view of crows was transformed. For how can I hate a creature capable of producing a sound so reminiscent of my baby's first delicate little sneeze? Poor thing probably has Spring allergies like me, I thought. I continued to watch and listen to the crow, but it didn't cough or sneeze again.

Still, as I rode the bus to work, I felt strangely hopeful. For if my heart can open up to a crow, on the basis of a little sneeze, then surely my enemies have nothing to fear.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


I'm daydreaming as I walk home from the bus. I'm humming "Someone's in the Kitchen with Dina," the remnants of a rousing rendition performed by an anonymous 3-year-old on the bus. I am intimately familiar with these crosswalks, so I run across the street despite the authoritative STOP hand, knowing I have a good 10 seconds before the light turns green. This enables me to make the light at the next crosswalk, and I run across the street, not because I have to, but because right at that moment I am celebrating the fact that I can. I reach the other side and keep walking, quickly now because it's cold outside, and because I've gathered momentum from the running and to slow to a stroll would feel wrong, like listening to James Taylor on the way home from a Guns n Roses concert.

I walk faster and faster, and now I'm playing a game, wondering whether I can make it all the way home without stopping, even when I have to cross the road. Then I think it would be much easier if I could just walk through things, and I imagine myself stepping off the curb and woooshing right through the Prius coming my way. Then I decide I'll walk straight through everything all the way home and to make it more interesting I choose a path through the houses rather than the adjacent sidewalk. So I walk through the yellow house on the corner, stopping to pick up the toy for the baby in the exersaucer, tipping the 1950s hat I'm now wearing at the woman stirring the sauce in the kitchen as I step out onto the lawn and then woosh through the red house with the black trim, the one that Eleanor envies, causing static on the television as I pass by, and I can hear the man cursing about the damned worthless cable company as I leap over the grass and woosh into the next house, the one that's for sale, and it's eerily quiet and lonely and perfectly staged for showing, and I notice the dust on the end-table and the old copy of Popular Mechanics that's been left on the coffee table as if the lagging economy has limited the staging crew's choice of magazines.

I hop back to the sidewalk and time my crossing to avoid a white sedan, then increase my stride as I reach the crest of the hill in front of my house, following the voice of Eleanor who is climbing and now hanging upside-down in the plum tree, and now Sylvia sees me from the front porch and she's running down the stairs to greet me, and she jumps into my arms and shouts, "My Mama is home! My best Mama is here!" I gather her up and tell Eleanor it's time to go in, then I close the front door on my daydream, but I can hear it quietly knocking as I turn around to face the question of what's for dinner.