Part two of “what’s the deal with me and birds?,” in which birds suddenly appear every 3 years or so — now with less-accurate-than-usual drawings (cobbled together from hazy childhood memories and untainted by, say, employing books or the Internet to find out what a bird actually looks like)! I’ll go into happier details about my late feathered friends tomorrow in Drawn @ Random’s sister blog, Shetland + Pony.
First, near two decades ago, was Feathery the fledgling. House sparrow? Probably. We’ve all had an encounter like this, I’m sure — the quintessential awkard-brown-birdling-of-indeterminate-status. I assumed she was a juvenile, and looking back on her behavior that seems a safe bet; but she wasn’t the heartiest creature and made no real attempts at escape (my mother and I tried on a couple occasions to release her into the trees, with mixed results). I wasn’t even a fledgling myself at the time, and knew nothing of birds, so I can’t say just what ultimately led to Feathery’s demise; I only know that it was a shock to my small self when she had been “doing so well,” as far as I knew. She was buried in the backyard, a red bow to mark the grave.
The second sparrow (?) encounter was hardly long enough to merit mention, though my mother always trots it out as a heroic escapade of my childhood by playing up my admittedly-minimal involvement. We were visiting a friend of the family, and their large Persian cat was playing on the lawn with what looked like a leaf; until I realized it was a bird. I grumpily squashed the “naughty” cat with one hand and grabbed the bird with the other. It resisted our attempts to place it in a box, and for all I know lived happily ever after.
Some time later, when I was about 8, was beautiful blood-red Moses the cardinal, rescued from a river of traffic. He seemed so hopeful; no blood, no breaks, no limping legs or wings held askance. Outwardly, he appeared able (if not willing) to move about freely and well. Maybe it was internal damage or simple shock, but something was definitely wrong. From beak to toe he was my favorite color, the color of life, but there wasn’t enough life on the inside. He drifted away at the small-animal hospital, though they apparently decided that a child such as myself did not need to know the particulars of how and why.
A few years later was Kekoa, brave one, a so-called Downy Woodpecker who was all sharp beak, sticky tongue, and stiff spotty tail feathers. I named her brave because when I saw her, in yet another yard of a family friend, she was fending off an aggressive male who had a distinct advantage: his sight. The adults spared only a quick glance at the noisy birds, but her stumbling flight led me to run over and investigate. Her obliviousness to my presence led me to realize that she was completely blind. Her eyes were tight shut and would never open, and I would never learn why. We bought woodpecker suet and hung it up in her enclosure, hoping she’d eat. She was lively and inquisitive enough, but she didn’t eat, and she didn’t open her eyes. When sleep took her that night it never let her go, though perhaps in that case it was for the best.
Then the robin with no name. She flew into our windshield in the middle of a lonely highway in the desert, which in hindsight seems like no place for a robin. Perhaps she’d lost her way? There was no way to restrain her in the car and no town for miles. Her wings seemed to be working, at least. We walked until we found shade and left her with water.
The warbler. At the home of yet another family friend/client, this one with a teddy-bear of a cat that was neutered and declawed and so on. Rendered harmless in that sense, but still a cat, and a respectable hunter of mice and voles and such small deer when he was let out in the backyard. I’ll admit that at this point I considered it best not to feel too much empathy for animals, and had once watched with interest as he neatly butchered and devoured a little rodent. But then one day he pounced and I saw beneath his paws a little greenish songbird. I hauled the cat away by the scruff. Yes, the creeping things and the beasts of the earth I left to their fates, but the birds of the heavens? I challenge you to find someone who does not in some way hold them a little more sacred.
My heart sunk when I saw the bright bead of red on its olive-drab breast, but its eye was bright and its look was defiant. It leapt from my hand and darted high into the sky, never to be seen again.
I know better how to care for birds now, though I rarely find them these days. My trees are all gone. Of course, they and I will never be free from each other entirely. My more recent encounters were not wild creatures, but I still count them in my collection of broken birds. There’s the mournful pet-store cockatoo, my relationship with whom is detailed in Hi, Dakota; and the discarded racing pigeon (sort of the catalyst for this whole question) who appeared almost exactly a year ago in both blogs under Odyssey of a Homer and don’t let the pigeon… If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s that I’ll probably never have a pet bird….
Note: Using a lyric from Josh Ritter’s “Long Shadows” was intended simply as an in-joke for myself in the previous post, but upon reflection it was something of an appropriate song, so I finished the line out in today’s title. Given the fate of Kekoa in particular, I woke at the slightest flutter from Pigeon in the middle of the night, ready to dash over and make sure he was alright and hadn’t been spooked or hurt or worse.