Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Robin in Pane

Humility is having a proper respect for oneself … It is liberation from rivalry, from the compulsion to measure (oneself) against other people. Timothy Radcliffe, OP

I have a certain fascination with birds. In my last column I recounted an experience I’d had with a group of magpies. As it turns out, the avian world is apparently not done with me yet. I’d gone into the garage to take care of some business when I noticed a robin flapping away against a window at the back of the garage.

Normally we keep our garage doors closed, but I had left one bay open as I was going in and out and, apparently, a robin decided to come check out our digs. Unfortunately she had gotten up against the window and couldn’t quite figure out why she couldn’t get to the tree on the other side – a paneful situation.

She flapped and flapped against the window but made no progress, and that’s when I had noticed her. Always having delusions of being the reincarnation of St. Francis of Assisi, I spoke gently to my feathered friend and, using the simplest words I could find, I implored her to turn around and look for the big, wide-open garage door behind her.

“There! There,” I said in perfectly plain English – well enunciated and clearly articulated. “That’s the way out. Fly, little bird; fly!”

But she wouldn’t listen. Could she really be that dumb, I wondered to myself, but I knew better. The fact is that birds do not speak (or understand) English at all well. Alas and alack, I do not speak Bird, let alone Robin (after all, I ain’t Batman)!

I tried to open the unscreened window to let the bird out, but one of the levers keeping it locked in place was out of my reach, so I couldn’t crank it open. I looked around for something I could use to maneuver her away from the window and to the outdoors, but the shovels, picks, and home gardening implements looked like they would do far more harm than good; I needed another option.

That’s when it occurred to me. I just needed to capture the little aviator and carry her to freedom! Worrying I might come down with avian flu or pick up mites that would do me grievous bodily harm, I donned a pair of hardy work gloves that I was sure would offer me some semblance of protection should the red-chested thrush decide to start pecking or, heaven forbid, call for reinforcements ala Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS.

Surprisingly, the robin continued to flap against the window, but she could gain no altitude (let alone passage to the great outdoors); that made it relatively easy for me to wrap my gloved hands around her as gently as possible and walk with her to the exit. As soon as I got her there, I pointed her in the right direction and released her. I don’t think I hurt her at all as she shot out of my hands at warp speed and was last seen leaving a vapor trail across the valley.

I’m trying to recall whether or not I have ever had a bird in hand, but I don’t think I have. This was a new experience for me and proved true the old adage; a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush – but only if one’s goal is to walk around all day with an angry, frustrated bird.

It was exciting being able to catch the robin – to discover I still have some semblance of speed and agility as my years advance – but it was even more pleasing to let her go to return home to her nest, her kith, her kin, where she may live out the remains of her life seeking worms, fleeing from predators, and telling tales amongst her feathered friends of her captivity and escape from some old geezer in his fowl den.

The pane was real; the cause of the robin’s consternation was clear, which is why she couldn’t see it – but I could. It wasn’t until she was wrapped in scary, yet caring hands that she came to gain her freedom. That’s our story, isn’t it?

God, it turns out, is in heaven, the universe continues to expand, and life goes on in this, our valley.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Peddlers at the Manor

A short story by Keith Axberg

George rolled his cart up the hill from the town’s Main Street until he found a spot in front of The Manor.  It was just past eleven in the morning, and George was huffing and puffing to get there on time. As he rolled into view of the main doors of the Home, he could see the residents were already jockeying for position along the concrete pad.

Lucretia was first in line. She’s always first, thought George to himself. She must wend her way through the nursing home like Jeff Gordon at Daytona, he continued. He could see her in his mind’s eye, walker firmly in hand, rolling as speedily as nature and arthritis would allow, weaving between the slower patrons as they streamed toward the exit, seeking the best place in queue – the front.

You would think these folks never ate the way they hustled their way to the parking lot, but that’s just the way it was. I guess when I get to be that age, George mused, I’ll see every meal as my possible Last Supper, so I’ll want to hit it as quickly as possible, too.

Behind Lucretia, Annie and Marvin bickered about who should be next. They’d been married nearly seven decades, and every day it was the same thing: “I got here first, so I should be first,” spat Marvin to his nearly deaf wife. “Well, it’s ladies first, you ol’ poop!” she spat back. And on and on it would go like that until they got what they came for, and seconds later they would both be chomping away on the fresh, hot pretzels George dispensed with speed and good cheer.

George finally managed to get his cart up to its usual spot a few feet from Lucretia. He set the wheel blocks beneath the wheels fore and aft, raised the shade umbrella with the “George’s Fresh Hot Pretzels” sign spelled out clearly on the dangling fringe, and popped the folding counter up into place – Ready for business, he was, in about forty seconds flat. George looked at his watch and grunted, “I’m slowing down.”

He opened the Plexiglas door to his pretzel case and the aromatic flavor of his fresh hot pretzels wafted out into the warm breeze, and the queue began to drool. The queue; the whole darned line began to drool in unison as George sang out, “Pretzels! Fresh Hot Pretzels! Anyone in line looking for Fresh Hot Pretzels?”

Lucretia shuffled forward as quickly as legs and walker would allow. “I’ll have one,” she said through hungry, quivering lips. George gave her a big smile.

“Coming right up, darling,” he said, as he grabbed a big ol’ fluffy pretzel with his tongs, tucked it into a paper holder, and handed it to her in one fell swoop. “On the house! And have some mustard; salted pretzels are better when you slather on some of that real French mustard – Gray Poupon; none of that nuclear yellow stuff you had as a kid!”

Lucretia took the pretzel with the fancy mustard and put it in her mouth so she could steer her walker with both hands back into the Manor. The nurses smiled at the yellowish gray grin on Lucretia’s face, and on all the smiles that followed.

NO PEDDLING PERMITTED IN TOWN reads the sign as one enters the village, but that didn’t apply to George, for he never sold his famous Fresh Hot Pretzels at the Manor – he only peddled smiles, and there’s no law against that, ever.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

God Speaking Through Magpies?

I think a spiritual journey is not so much a journey of discovery. It’s a journey of recovery. It’s a journey of uncovering your own inner nature. It’s already there. Billy Corgan

I was out moving the sprinklers in the yard when I happened upon a pack of magpies on the south side of the house. Now, I know birds are routinely said to gather in flocks, and if one wants to get technical, a group of magpies is more properly referred to as a “Parliament” of magpies. I presume that’s because they are related to Ravens (a group of which is called a Congress).

It is tempting to theorize on why magpies and ravens are given such illustrious titles when gathered in a group (inane squawking and copious droppings come rather too quickly to mind), but such a mental exercise is beyond the scope of this modest monograph.

I referred to the magpies next to my house as a pack because they were engaged in a nefarious activity when I happened upon them. I’d startled them with my cat-like approach, and they took off like Roman Rockets, abandoning the focus of their attention, which was, surprisingly, an unopened pack of cigarettes!

I didn’t realize they smoked, and have no idea where they could possibly keep their matches. They had just managed to tear open the pack when I caught them. The poor darlings apparently don’t know about the easy-open cellophane pull-tab. It is a good thing I stopped them as I am sure they would have ignored the surgeon general’s warning.

Many people dislike magpies, and I understand. They’re noisy and obnoxious and seem intent on stealing whatever they can, wherever they can, whenever they can. Now, in my line of work I don’t generally condone thievery, but I admire magpies for their tenacity and for their ingenuity. On top of that, they are simply doing what they do best. They are being magpies.

Whatever else one might say about them, magpies are smart. You hardly ever see them getting hit by cars, although they’re always out there on the road grabbing a quick snack off some inattentive creature that failed to heed their warnings. You see, magpies have learned to warn one another to watch for traffic and, interestingly, on those few occasions they get hit by motor vehicles, more often than not they’re killed by trucks.

This has been both documented and studied, and behavioral scientists theorize it is because they know to cry “caw” when they see an automobile coming, but can’t say “truck”.
Anyway, I enjoy watching the local birds in action, and magpies – love them or hate them – seem to be amongst the smartest of the bird-brained neighbors we’ve got (and I think they know it).

You can never outsmart them and it’s illegal to shoot them, so they’ve got us right where they want us. When they find something that interests them, they grab it, fly off to a safe spot, post a lookout, and then explore their new-found treasure to their hearts content. If you stumble upon them, like I did, they fly off a few feet, stop, look, and either scold you for spoiling their fun, or laugh at your inability to catch them.

If they only knew. I have no desire to stop them in their frivolity, and I certainly don’t want to catch them. I like peace and quiet, and I’d have none of that if I had a house full of magpies. And if I COULD catch them, would I want to surround myself with the slowest and dumbest of the bunch (for that’s what they’d be)? Of course not!

I guess birds don’t bother me so much, even if they are raucous and messy, because they are what they are. It’s not my job to change or control them. It’s not my place to shoot them or run them over. In fact, if I accept them for what they are, I find my petty irritations pretty much disappear and I can get down to the business of actually appreciating what they have to offer.

It could well be that by stealing a pack of cigarettes, they were speaking to their victim on God’s behalf: “Listen to the surgeon general, fool!”

God certainly speaks to us in many ways in this, our valley.