THE LITTLE SPARROW IN THE BIG STORE

 

At the big home improvement store where I work, there are managers and project specialists and customer service associates.  There are cashiers, loaders, and night stockers.  But of all my coworkers at the big home improvement store, my favorite is the little sparrow who lives in the rafters.

In most stores, the presence of any animal would be an oddity at least, more likely a disturbance.  But because of our store’s size and openness, birds fly in and out at will.  They’ve become our unofficial mascots—ad hoc good will ambassadors at whom adult customers smile, and which their children regard with unabashed glee. 

What is it about birds that makes us humans feel all homey?  Our vocabulary is seasoned with bird-related idioms meant to evoke home and family:  A couple just setting up house is said to be nesting, with that first shared home likely referred to as a love nest.  Advancing one’s position in life is sometimes called feathering the nest.  An expectant woman is on the nest, or on the egg, and when the children are grown, we say they’ve flown the nest.  At that point, we nickname their parents empty nesters.

So charmed are we by our winged friends, that many of us openly invite them into our lives— transforming our yards into bird havens by decorating with feeders, baths, and nest-friendly houses.  Perhaps you’ve seen that clever commercial in which Mama and Papa Cardinal use their local home improvement store to build the bird house of their dreams.  That’s no coincidence.

Still, it’s not the result of advertising that I’m so fond of the store sparrows.   It’s the harmonic relationship which has developed between the two; it’s what the birds have come to represent to me:  adaptability and survival. 

Snugged in the beams above the lumber area cash register is a nest built by a little brown sparrow. I watched as the nest took shape;  at first she flew out the loading doors and back in again with twigs gathered from the ground, but soon she was incorporating materials from the store itself.  Tufts of insulation were carried up into the beams, along with snippets of twine and other packing materials.  The little brown sparrow and her mate made themselves at home in their adopted, block- and- steel meadow.   Undaunted by the noise, the clutter, and the close proximity to creatures of a much larger and much different species, they learned to raid the seasonal shop for spilled bird seed and other goodies.  And unless I’ve misjudged the signs, they’ve filled their carefully-built nest with a clutch of eggs.  How could my heart not be happy at such good news?

Who knows what brought the little brown sparrow into our store weeks ago?  It’s a big, wide world out there.  But journeys tend to begin and end as they like, and we make our homes wherever that road leads.  Sometimes the journey is geographical, with starting and ending points in different physical locations.  But for many of us, the journey is an emotional one—or a spiritual one, or one of self-discovery, or of self-improvement.  The point of some journeys—so it would seem—is to overcome an obstacle or survive a crisis with perseverance and grace. 

Likewise, the home we make might be a three-dimensional structure built of supplies found in the aisles of a home improvement store; yet, home can just as accurately be defined as that state in which a person feels comfortable with his situation, or within his own skin.  What a home, sweet home that must be!

I applaud the little brown sparrow:  her determination, her creativity, and the moxie with which she hops among employees and customers, shopping for bits and pieces to take back to her nest, are the embodiment of home improvement,  both literal and metaphorical.  I can only hope to do my job as well as she does hers!

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REALLY, REALLY STUPID IDEAS (PART 3)

Birds are my friends.  Really.  It’s purely coincidental how my only two attempts at saving the little feathered fellows ended in utter heartbreak.

For awhile I lived in a second-floor apartment that overlooked a flat roof.  Tar Beach, as it was called, was just perfect for star-gazing, grilling, and cold beers at sunset.  The resident cats, Tigger, Yoda, and Valentine Michael Smith,  were fond of Tar Beach as well.  When the front window was opened, the three kitties could spent hours outside sunbathing and watching the world go by from above. 

My Russian Blue Yoda was the devil in a grey fur coat.  Left to her own devices, Yoda would catch and bring home any creature that walked, crawled, or flew within paw’s reach.  One day, she climbed back into the apartment through the front window carrying a little brown bird in her mouth.  Yoda was justifiably pleased with herself, but the little brown bird was in a panic.  There had been plenty of impromtu funerals for Yoda’s less fortunate prey, but this tiny creature was still very much alive, and very frightened.  A recue was in order.

It took some coaxing to get the bird out of Yoda’s mouth.  But once I did and the offended cat went off to sulk, I held the bird in my palms and assessed the situation.   It was obviously young, but with no apparent blood or wounds.  Relieved, I cradled the little bird in one hand and crawled out through the window onto Tar Beach.  But what to do now?  No trees grew near enough to place the bird safely on a branch, and if it were simply left  there on the flat roof Yoda would snag it again as soon as my back was turned.  But wait!  Birds can fly!  To the very edge of the flat roof I carried the little brown bird, where I gave it a gentle toss toward freedom.

Which turned out to be a really, really stupid idea.

Remember that scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window,  in which Jimmy Stewart falls from his window in slow motion while looking at the camera all helpless and terrified?   Yep.  Poor little bird fell like a rock, and its last Earthly sight before the pearly gates of Bird Heaven opened was my clueless, yet horrified face.  May it rest in peace.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

Several years later, my husband and I were driving home from work when we spied a robin quivering near the center line in the road up ahead.  When the bird didn’t flee at our approach, I pronounced it  in need of help.  That ominous music you’re no doubt hearing right now is the sound of foreshadowing.

My dear husband knows what a force of nature his wife can be, so when I requested that he pull off the road next to the bird, he sighed deeply and did it.  “And what do you propose we do?” he asked.   Well, wasn’t it perfectly obvious?  My proposal was that he get out of the car and shoo the poor robin off the road before it was hit by a car and killed.   With an even deeper sigh, the sweet man put the car in park, turned on the flashers, and went to do my bidding.  And that, of course, was a really, really stupid idea.

When he got within two steps of it, the robin suddenly realized my husband was there,  and in a flurry of wings it took off—right into the path of an oncoming pickup truck.

Nothing but feathers.  May it also rest in peace.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

I’ve lived with the guilt of those two dead creatures for years now.  And although I know that birds are incapable of higher communication skills and feelings such as spite, it seems more than a coincidence how every single morning my car is covered with white splotches of bird crap even though I park nowhere near a tree.  

I am the reason these birds are angry.

 

WTF, BAMBI?

In the road ahead stood a small deer, looking dazed, confused, and more than a bit frightened.  It was close to midnight, but I can’t really say the little doe was nervous about breaking

How many rednecks does it take to move a deer off the road?

her curfew because here in Pennsylvania the white tailed deer do keep rather late hours.  Still, I was only a few blocks from home, and it was surprising to see the animal in such a populated area.

 I slowed down, expecting her to trot out of my path as I approached.  With only a few yards between the doe and my car,  I realized she was not going to move  so I stopped and honked my horn.  But the doe remained right there in the middle of the lane.  Driving slowly now, I passed her on the berm.  When even my car moving so close by didn’t startle her into running, I pulled off the road and observed her in my rearview mirror.  That’s when I noticed her holding up one of her back legs.

The sight of one of God’s unique and wonderful creatures injured and stranded made my mother senses go all tingly.  Had she been hit by a car and left behind by rest of the herd?  I turned off the engine.  My daughter, who’d been watching warily from the passenger side, sensed danger.  “Uh, Mom, what are you doing?” she asked, almost as if she didn’t already know the answer.

“That little doe looks hurt and scared,” I said.  “We have to help her.”  Although several previous attempts at wildlife rescue had been disastrous (Rest In Peace, little birds.), I was determined to see this brown-eyed child of nature safely off the road and—hopefully—headed toward home.  Putting on my flashers, I stepped out of the car.    “Hey,” I said, by way of addressing the deer, then once more a bit louder:  “Hey!”  

Nothing.  Seeing no oncoming traffic, I started toward the animal. 

“Where you going now?” my daughter wanted to know.

“Well, if she doesn’t get off the road, a car is going to come along and hit her again.  She’ll probably get killed, and someone’s car could get messed up.  I’m gonna chase her away so that doesn’t happen.”

I approached the doe slowly, stopping in the gravel directly behind her.  A dog in a nearby yard began to bark.  “Hey!” I repeated sharply, “Hey!  Get off the road!”  To emphasize the urgency of the situation, I clapped my hands in the deer’s direction and stamped my foot several times.

The dog went into full red alert mode, yapping the alarm.  The deer stood statue still.

“Hey!” I called out, once more clapping and stamping, “Go!  Get off the road!”  Still there was no movement from the doe.

By now, my daughter had left the car and stood a few feet away.  “What’s going on?” she wanted to know.

“She won’t move,” I explained. “I’m thinking she’s in shock.”  Examining the deer from my position, I saw no blood, no bones sticking out, no urine, no feces. 

“You stay here,” I told my daughter.  Walking right up to the doe, I reached out with one index finger and poked her in the butt.  There was no response.  I poked her again, this time repeating my instructions in a loud, clear voice:  “Hey!  Get off the road!”  She put her back foot down, but took not one step toward safety.  Joining my daughter alongside the road, I studied things for a moment.  “You know, she’s not a very big deer. . .”

“So?” my daughter asked, again as if she didn’t already know the answer.

“So I could probably pick her up and carry her off the road.”

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” My daughter clearly was doubtful, and suddenly my mind filled with the vision of flailing hooves breaking my ribs and knocking out my teeth.  Now I’m no beauty, but I do need my ribs and my teeth.

“I guess not. . .” I answered.

Approaching the deer again, I placed both palms on her rump and pushed.  She flicked a brown ear toward me but stood firm.  I pushed again— harder this time— and managed to make her lean comically in the direction of my push, but nothing more.  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought.  It was time to make this doe see reason.

“Listen, Bambi,” I told her, hands on my hips, “You’ve got to get off the road.  If you don’t, a car will come along and hit you and you’ll be dead and maybe someone’s car will get messed up.”  For emphasis I used my sternest mom voice.  She looked vaguely in my direction and flicked an ear again, but steadfastly refused to move. 

As I was using my vast powers of reasoning on the little doe, a big, red, pickup truck pulled off the road.  This is Pennsylvania, after all.  The window rolled down, and the driver called out, “Hey, did you hit that deer?”

“Nah,” I explained, “She was standing here when I came along.  I think maybe she’s already been hit and she’s shocky.  She won’t move.”

A big, baseball cap-wearing man climbed out of the truck, hiked up his jeans, and said, “Well, we’d better get her off the road before someone hits her and kills her and messes up his car.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” I agreed.  “Duh,” I thought.

Mr. Baseball Cap came our way, clapping his hands and stamping his feet.  Obviously, he didn’t know I’d already tried that method of persuasion.  “Hey you!” he hollered at the deer, “Get off the road!”  When she didn’t move, he gave her rump a shove.  Tired of being pushed, the doe folded her long legs and lay down right at our feet.  Apparently, we’d been transported to cartoon land.

“What the hell. . .?” mumbled Mr. Baseball Cap.  He stuck out one cowboy-booted foot, and gave her a gentle nudge.  Once again, the doe flicked her ears but stayed put.  The dog continued sounding the alarm.

Behind us a screen door opened, and the dog’s owner—an old man who appeared to have just crawled from bed— came out, anxious to know what was upsetting his dog so late at night.  “Hey,” the geezer asked us, “Did you hit that deer?”

“No,” I explained once more, “She was standing in the road when I got here.  I think she was already hit and is in shock, because she won’t move.”

“Well, geez,” said Mr. Geezer, “We ought to get her off the road before someone kills her and messes up his car.”

Mr. Baseball Cap and I raised our palms in the universally accepted gesture meaning do ya think?  Ignoring our sarcasm, Geezer tried a tactic he felt was sure to get the job done:  He clapped his hands and stamped his feet in the doe’s direction, yelling, “Hey you!  Git offa the road!”   The doe, of course, remained where she was.  Now I could imagine the rest of the doe’s wayward herd standing in the woods just off the road, muffling laughter and exchanging whatever forms of currency is presently used by four-legged creatures.

The three of us— Mr. Geezer, Mr. Baseball Cap and I— proceeded to stomp, nudge, and cajole the deer while the dog barked and my daughter watched from roadside.  Finally, Mr. Geezer said, “Well, if she’s really hurt and won’t move, I suppose we could call the police have someone come get her.”  At just that point, a police cruiser pulled up with its cherry top spinning. 

“What’s the matter, did you hit that deer?” the officer wanted to know.

“No, she was already standing in the middle of the road when I got here.” I was quite familiar with the story by this time.  “I think she’s already been hit and maybe she’s in shock.  She won’t move.” 

“Someone’s going to hit her and kill her,” said the officer,  joining us.  “We’d better try and get her off the road.”  Mr. Baseball Cap, Mr. Geezer, the dog, and I all assured him we’d been trying to do just that.

“Hmm,” the officer shrugged.  “Well, if she’s hurt and won’t move, I guess I’ll have to shoot her and drag her out of the road.”  And he put one hand on his pistol.

No longer amused, the deer hopped to her feet and trotted off into a nearby patch of trees.  We just stood and watched her go.

You know, I kind of hope that little doe collected on her bet and got to hang out with the biggest, baddest buck in the bunch.  She earned it.