Saturday, August 01, 2020

Why My Neighbor Calls Me Wonder Woman

Many months ago, after the battle of the Blue Jays versus the Robins was waged and the Robins won the territory of my back yard, a mama Robin set up housekeeping in the elbow of the downspout just under my roof. The nest was a tidy affair for a Robin, and it was about eight feet from my back door which opens onto my patio. She also lives above my herb garden. Here it is:

My neighbor right next door, Gretchen, and I started watching immediately for babies. We talked over her fence and texted any observations. I made sure to quietly and soothingly speak to the Robin every time I went out the back door, congratulating her on her stalwart and persistent attendance to her duties as a Mother. I called her Mama. I complimented her on her babies. She clutched (so far), astonishingly, three times. 

All was well with the most recent round of babies until about two weeks ago or so when I went to take out the garbage. I looked up as I always do and was shocked to see a naked, potbellied baby bird hanging over the side of the nest. It moved weakly and seemed stuck somehow. Its mother was out gathering food. I watched a few more minutes, trying to see how it was stuck. It was facing me; it seemed to be literally hanging by its neck. I went inside to think about what to do. I decided that if in fifteen minutes, the mother had not somehow saved her baby, I would do it for her.

Of course, I didn't wait fifteen whole minutes. I checked outside sooner and found the poor thing still hanging there. I grabbed latex gloves and the 8-foot step ladder. As I climbed up, the mother appeared on the wire and began chirping in distress. I had to go to the step nearest the very top and lean over. The baby struggled as I touched it; its wings were very strong. I carefully held it and dislodged it from the stiff straw and sticks then flipped it gently back into the nest. 

My relationship with Mama was severely compromised. Her trust was shattered. To her, I had not saved her baby, but had tried to raid the nest and steal it. I felt terrible.

A few days later when I was out tending my herbs, not only did Mama scold me from the wire above, but her husband hopped around, flapping his wings and yelling, only six feet away from me. I was The Enemy for sure.

This past Sunday when we returned from our weekend at the lake, Gretchen called me. "Lots of drama with the Robins," she said. "We were barbecuing and all of a sudden we heard a lot of flapping and banging. One of the babies was hanging upside down from the nest. It couldn't fly away or something. It just kept hanging there. We went in, and later, I guess it finally made it back in the nest. It's there now and it looks fine."

The robin, big enough to fledge, was still there on Monday and Tuesday, just standing at the nest, looking around. We both wondered why it hadn't left the nest. Wednesday morning, before I made my coffee at 7:30, I looked out, and this was happening (video courtesy of Gretchen):

I saw Gretchen on her back porch. I opened my dining room window and she immediately told me that this was the same thing she saw on Friday. "I honestly think she's stuck on something. Wait there a minute." She went inside and got a high-powered camera lens. "Nance, she's definitely stuck. Her leg looks red and raw."

"Okay," I said. "I'll get the ladder and get right on it."

I grabbed another pair of gloves, slipped on my gardening shoes, and went out in my jammies (an old white v-neck tee of Rick's and a pair of boxers, both XL). I grabbed the ladder, positioned it in my herb garden so that it wouldn't hurt anything, and climbed on up. This time, I swear that every single Robin in the neighborhood was there. At least ten of them perched on wires and roofs and branches, all with admonitions and, possibly, advice.

As soon as I could get a better look, I saw the poor Robin's one leg was vastly swollen at the joint. It wasn't rubbed red or raw, though. As I looked more closely, my heart ached. The baby was held fast in place by fishing line that was used as nesting material. It had become embedded in its leg and its leg had merely grown around it. It would never be able to leave the nest--unless I helped it.

I told Gretchen I needed scissors and why. She came out of her house with four pair of varying sizes and shapes. (Bless her heart; I just love her.) I chose the pair I felt would be best for the job and carefully cut the line in two places. As soon as I did, the bird fluttered madly and landed--free--on my patio rug. I felt I had to decamp as quickly as possible before more relatives arrived; I was getting creeped out.

Gretchen and I rejoiced, but she had to rush in and return to work. I put the ladder away and went in to Officially start my day. In a minute or two, my phone dinged with a text message. It was from Gretchen, a GIF of Wonder Woman running. "This is you coming out to save that bird today! Make sure Rick recognizes and rewards you for your heroic acts!" 

Yesterday, I got my ladder and gloves out again to get all the fishing line out of that nest. Gretchen told me she's seen the baby Robin several times, and I have, too. It's flying just fine. If Mama Robin goes for a fourth clutch, they'll all be safe. But, if something should happen, Wonder Woman will be On It.

Thursday, July 16, 2020


I had a touch of Sadness on my walk today. Yet another of my neighborhood's towering old trees is being taken down a few blocks away from my home. It was a lofty silver maple, many stories high, its trunk straight and true. There was no way to tell why it was coming down today after decades of life. It looked tragic and undignified standing there, stripped of all its lower boughs and branches, like an old man who was nearly naked in front of a crowd of onlookers who weren't going to help him, but merely look and move along.

I have a special affinity for trees. One of the things I like best about my neighborhood is that its streets are tree-lined, and the trees are old and big and gracious. They have an almost paternal feel, as if they are sheltering and protecting the homes and sidewalks they shade. While I walk my route, I often reach out and brush the leaves of trees or pat their trunks. I notice their changes--or their staid, static presences. In the spring the flowering trees bring me incredible joy. In the fall the colours of the trees never fail to awe me. In the summer their green abundance makes me feel content and serene. 

My deep affection for trees was fostered by my father, who truly did love Nature in all its forms. Our back yard was a Nature Preserve in which he fussed over his roses and his trees with equal adoration. My father was the only person I ever knew who watered his mature trees. We had a huge maple, a box elder, a cherry tree, an apple tree, a weeping willow, a locust tree, a plum tree, and a peach tree, and those were just in the back yard of our tiny bungalow home. He never had a sprinkler, either. He'd just turn the nozzle of the hose to a fine spray, prop it up on a brick, and let it run. I can see him in my mind's eye, patting the huge split maple on its grey trunk and saying, "It's been hot with no rain. This tree needs some water, too." 

But my father didn't only love his own trees. Often, when we went to visit my grandmother and grandfather--my mother's parents--Dad would get bored. Much of what they talked about concerned people he didn't care about or know, and it didn't do a lot for us kids, either. My father would say, "I'm going to take the kids on a Nature Walk." I loved these walks, which went all around the quiet tree-lined streets and alleyways of my grandparents' neighborhood. We would stop and smell flowers and tree blossoms. We would find and look at seed pods or other interesting things. And when we came to some strong, old trees, my father would stop. "Look at this old tree," he'd say. "Look at this bark and its good straight trunk. Can you imagine how old it is and what it's seen? Why don't you give it a good hug?" 

Other times, he'd talk about the shape of the crown of the tree or if the tree needed to be pruned and why that was important. If it was a really warm day, we'd often stop and sit in the shade of a tree, right on someone's lawn. My father didn't worry about such things. "Feel how much cooler it is under a tree?" he'd say. He loved leaning against tree trunks, resting his often sore back, feeling the strength of the tree. I loved these walks, these times with my father, and my love for trees grew, too. 

Today on my walk it was warm and humid. I chose the shady side of each street, welcoming the cool dim shadow of the trees as they gave me respite from the summer heat. I reached for the soft fringes of the magnificent pine on the corner, marveling at its new growth. I noticed small pods of buckeyes already formed on the tree a few paces away. I smiled at the crabapple tree full of chattering sparrows, barely visible in its leafy crown. 

It's been hot here lately. The trees need water. I hope it rains soon.


Thursday, July 09, 2020

If Only Masks Filtered Out The Stupid

I was subjected to this conversation in the waiting area of a medical center this week because I had to finally have my overdue appointment with my neurologist. Unfortunately, it is a shared waiting space with another practice in the same conglomerate, but physical distancing was possible. Audible distancing was not, however, so while I filled out some repetitive and useless forms, I could not help but overhear this discussion between a woman (probably in her sixties) and her elderly mother, who was the patient.

We join it as I did, already in progress.

Daughter: It's the destruction that I don't get. Why destroy everything?

Mother: Well, what'll they come for next? Disney World? Disneyland?

Daughter: It's better ways to get your point across is all I'm sayin'. (at this moment, I glanced up from my forms and she looked my way) That's my personal opinion.

Mother: Have you thought about supper?

Daughter: I want to get stuff cleaned out of that fridge. Pulled pork. The rest of that potato salad.

Mother: There's not nary enough of that potato salad for more'n two people.

Daughter: Well, we're gettin' rid of all of that stuff. I have a delivery comin' tomorrow. I sure will be glad when I can just go wherever I want to go whenever I want to go. It sure would be nice to travel. Get back down to South Carolina.

Mother: It's down in South Carolina, too. The virus is all over the country. It's everywhere.

Daughter: I know. (big sigh) At some point, you just gotta live your life, you know? You just gotta live your life. That's just how I feel about it.

(Both pause while they consider this philosophy)

Daughter: Dogs are lucky, though! They already have a vaccine for the Covid.

Mother: What?! Are you serious?

Daughter: Yep. Says so right on the package: protects against fleas, ticks, heartworm, and the Covid. Course it's not the same Covid as we humans get, but it's still the Covid.

Mother: Well, I'll be. Course isn't everyone worried now about the H1N1 coming now, too?

Daughter: And the Ebola! But those are in Africa right now. OF COURSE. That's where it all starts.

Mother: (shakes head) Like we don't have enough goin' on right here, right now.

It was at this point that I finished my paperwork, so I took it up to the window. When I came back, it was mere moments before I was called in to my appointment. As usual, it was delightful; Dr. B. and I dispensed with the business end of my visit quickly and efficiently and spent a good long while chatting about other more pleasant things. He continues to be a light in my life.

But my time in the waiting room impressed upon me that my vote just got more important. Smart people everywhere need to vote.
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