Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Never Eat Crow - A Critter Tale
I think I've had one of every animal pictured here. Maybe two of the polar bears.
I am a collector of all things furry, feathered, flying, creeping, purring, and barking. Taming my urges to acquire all of God's creatures has been hard-earned.
Grizzly used to bring home every stray anything, hand it to me to save, and then gripe endlessly about its existence in our home. Like the time at work he pulled four tiny kittens out of a pipe that was about to be flooded. The progenitor was nowhere to be seen. Naturally, I became the mama to the tottering, eyes barely opening, mewling felines.
"We'll find homes for them," he announced to me, two-year-old Wild Man, and six-year-old Bo. Yeah. That'll work.
Let's see.....we'll all be mamas since there isn't one. And that means we'll hover over them every minute, feed them nearly on the hour, feel them snuggle in the crooks of our necks for warmth while sucking on our ear lobes, and when they're hail and hearty a month from now, off they'll go.
That might have been feasible if he'd brought home hyenas. Not so much with four purring fluff balls.
Names had to be given of course. We were consumed with Beatrix Potter at the time so two of them became "Tom Kitten," and "Jemima Puddle Cat." The others just "Tucker" and "Bess" because we liked the names. Two tabby striped boys, two all white girls.
In our family almost all names get morphed. We can't help it. It might even be a syndrome they haven't named yet. The kids have vacillated between despising us for it and gleefully participating. Recently, they have begun to show signs of irreversible infection.
For instance, "Tom" became "Tommy." No big deal. Then "Tombo Combo" because one of our local hole-in-the-wall hamburger joints had a menu item by that name. (Former owner was named Tom. You don't need to know this so of course I'm telling you anyway.) Then Tommy developed an intestinal problem which rendered him sulphuric and socially unacceptable. Consequently, we dubbed him "Tombo Combo Dropped a Little Bomb-bo." And on and on it went.
"Jemima Puddle Cat" became "Jemima" which became "Mime-urs" but is spelled "Mimers." Which looks like it should be pronounced Mimm-ers. Nothing makes much sense. I just call her "Stewy." Yes, there's an explanation for that, too, but it can wait.
Bess and Tucker, strangely enough, managed to hang on to their original monikers most of the time. JoJo, however, who entered the fray at roughly the same time, developed approximately 35 names. I'm telling you, it's a strange condition and we probably need medication.
But this story wasn't about cats or dogs, believe it or not, or our odd naming affliction. This story was supposed to be about birds. I have no idea what happened.
I meant to tell you about the day Grizzly brought me a baby crow.
He was the biggest, most helpless looking baby. And such a dark gray he was nearly black.
I had always wanted a crow. You rarely see babies because the parents are so intensely protective, the fledglings don't leave the nest until they are nearly grown. And you can teach crows to talk. Technically, you're not supposed to keep them as pets. But if one flies right into your arms, what are you supposed to do? I know what I did, having rehabilitated more than my share of wild critters. I checked the Internet for what to feed him and how best to get him to eat. I even made a mock crow head out of plastic tweezers and a glove and poked food down his throat. He thrived. He grew. He made strange noises.
Every day I gave him flying lessons by holding onto his feet and making him flap. He loved it. He was the UGLIEST thing I have nearly ever seen. And he STANK. Our is it stunk? He smelled bad. But he was ours. I hoped to set him free and find that he wanted to live around our yard. I envisioned him calling out words to us much as a previous rescue, "Hope," the mocking bird, learned to imitate the toads and would croak from the tree tops. I envisioned him swooping in for visits. What I didn't envision was his transformation into a pigeon.
I looked at him one day and wondered why he wasn't black anymore. He was getting lighter and his beak was looking decidedly freakish for a crow. Stripes started forming down his wings. I don't know when it dawned on me but I do remember staring at him one day and saying, "That's no crow." It was Bo who piped up and said, "He looks like a pigeon."
"A PIGEON?" I exclaimed, protesting. Surely, in all of God's green earth I wasn't raising a pigeon and thinking it was a crow.
"Yeah, Mommy. That's a pigeon! Isn't he beautiful?"
"Well, maybe, for a pigeon," I replied, "but he's a pretty ugly crow."
It dawned on me I'd been feeding him the wrong diet. He couldn't have cared less. He was huge.
Since there was nothing to be done but finish his ground school pilot's work, I kept up the lessons. My goal was to teach him to fly......AWAY. One pigeon turns into a herd of pigeons, or a grove, or a quorum. Something.
Fully feathered out and completely ready to launch, he was actually beautiful. We had grown quite attached to him and dubbed him "Twig." He knew his name and began to make lovely sounds when he landed. He was making regular tours around the backyard now and we expected to find that he had gone for good nearly any day, off in search of a flock of his own. But instead, he seemed quite content to stay with us and perch on any surface where he could land. And the closer to the back door the better. If we left it open he would walk right in.
In case you were ever in doubt about this, pigeons poop. A LOT. Soon our ladder, patio table, garden fence, etc. were being christened in lovely white splashes reminiscent of grotesque modern art paintings and equally as welcome. We attempted to shoo him out past our yard. He was undeterred. He belonged to us even though we had at least 300 other pigeons he could have joined at anytime, living a mere 1/4 mile away in an old, abandoned winery tower. Life was good with us. And so we felt his relocation might need a boost. Perhaps he should live somewhere farther away where he could still have human contact.
The perfect place dawned on us. A huge park fifteen miles north with lakes and trees and, best of all, people who came regularly to feed ducks, geese, and pigeons. He would be in his element. He would find a wife. He would go on to create a family tree. With more twigs on it.
With sadness, but a sense of anticipation, we dropped Twig into a cardboard box and closed the lid lightly. We had to stop at the bank on the way and, not wanting to leave him in a hot car, took him into the bank with us. The Wild Man, being six-years-old and not yet known for his judgment, began to worry that Twig couldn't breathe well. So he opened the box. In the bank. Twig popped up his head to decide which teller should receive his deposit. He spread his wings for flight just at the moment we all noticed him. We forced him to make an emergency landing and returned him to the terminal. Disaster averted. On to the park.
As we approached a little lake surrounded by trees we decided this was our spot. We stroked his soft feathers one last time. We assured him birds were thriving all around him. We told him about his romantic possibilities. But the kids cried anyway. They worried he wouldn't know what to do. They were sure he'd starve.
We set him down on the ground. He made no attempt to fly away and merely walked around dejectedly. Bo burst into tears. And then, all at once, he flew to the top of the highest tree and simply sat there, looking lost. This wasn't the comforting parting I had planned. I wiped faces and noses and said the reassuring things mommies say. There was no happy way out of this but I tried to reassure them Twig would adjust.
I headed toward home with a heavy heart. Would he adjust? Had I condemned him to starvation, deprivation, annihilation? I tried to put it out of my mind, distract the kids, and get our errands done.
By the time we got home I sat said children at the schoolroom desk and set their work out before them. The day was beautiful and I threw open the windows and doors. It seemed a little quiet in the backyard not hearing Twig's fluttering coos as he flew about and my heart accused me with a tight pang. I hoped the kids weren't feeling the same way but I figured they were. We had grown so used to his sounds.
Suddenly, I heard a familiar whoosh and coo. I stopped in my tracks and snapped my head toward the back door. Of course, there could be no way it was Twig. I hoped the kids hadn't heard it. Girzzly had already threatened to relocate Twig to Pismo Beach, 150 miles away, and I had laughed him off quite sure 15 miles was enough. But maybe Twig had spread the word before he left and now another pigeon was discovering the gravy train. I rushed to the back door. So did the kids. Yep, they'd heard it.
"Is that Twig?!" they shouted.
I looked to the patio table. And sure enough, sitting there plump, pretty, and pleased with himself was Twig. "Made it!," he seemed to say. "Where's my ladder? I really gotta go."
The kids were elated, naturally. This meant Twig simply had to live with us because in his God-given bird brain, this was home, and he'd proven he could find it from anywhere. The place he knew and the place he loved. There had to be another answer. We would discover it. But in the meantime, what could we do but say, "Welcome home, Twig! You're amazing! How in the heck did you DO that?" and, oh yeah, "Dad's gonna kill us!"
To Be Continued....