Aug 21, 2013

Darn Swallow

posted by killre

It was to have been a quiet evening at home.  I had just finished watering the front yard and decided to let the dog out back because she'd been cooped inside for a while.  I've no idea what breed she is.  When I asked my crack research staff, they told me to measure her height "till her weathers."  I said, "First of all it's 'til.  Secondly it isn't 'til, it's to, and thirdly it's withers, you Yahoos.  Go back to researching crack."

Whatever the breed, she is a lithe, long-legged creature with a loving nature, a child's sense of wonder, perky ears the size of satellite dishes and very little concept of the playful pain and damage she is capable of inflicting upon persons or property.  One of her favorite pastimes is tearing up my back yard, which is one reason why I was keeping a close eye on her while she wasted little time doing some watering of her own.

Overhead, two birds darted and looped about each other in an avian version of "First One Back to the Hayloft Gets to Be on Top."  They had the same basic silhouette as blue jays, with long, square-cornered, plankish tails.  They possessed only two-thirds of that screaming meanie of a species' heft and attitude, however, and the coloring was decidedly different: a gentle brown with black piping on the back and a dingy white undercarriage.  When I asked my crack staff, one of them said, "Uh... whew... s-s-s-some kinda swallow, maybe?"

Whatever kinda swallow maybe, one of the birds apparently cared even less than the other did about getting back to the hayloft first.  It broke off a series of loops to light upon the ground near my fence and proceeded to hop along through the grass-- looking, no doubt, for a quick snack.  The dog, more curious than territorial, quickly covered the distance on her imperial walker legs.  The bird, looking elsewhere, didn't see her coming 'til too late.  It was cornered between the high wooden fence and the flowerbed, which is encased in bricks stacked about a foot and a half high and anchored at one end by a towering rosebush.

So secluded is that corner, in fact, that I never saw exactly what happened there.  The dog went in, there was an alarming series of chirps, then the bird came fluttering out in a flat spin that never quite reached twelve inches of altitude.  It frisbeed across the patio 'til it found itself in another corner.  The dog followed, tail a-wag.  Above us, the kinda swallow's mate let out a string of chirps that were louder than any bird that size has a right to make, given the lung capacity, and started making a desperate series of those flared-wing, side-to-side, hey-look-at-me-I'm-the-one-who's-injured maneuvers.

I roared the dog's name --it is an embarrassing moniker, bestowed by my daughter, and even if you were to promise to somehow get "Show off your Impiousness" changed to "Show your impiety," I would still refuse to reveal it here-- followed by the command, "NO!"  She backed off about six feet, tail literally wagging the dog, looked at me, looked at the bird, looked at me, looked at the bird.  I strode to the patio door, slid it open, snapped my fingers and said, "Get in the house!"

It isn't that the dog has less comprehension of get in the house than she does of no.  Surprisingly, it isn't even a matter of the dog taking the principled stance that get into the house would be more proper.  It's that she knew get in the house was less imperative than no.  Besides, this was the most fun she'd had all week.  She wasn't sure if that cheeping thing in the corner was a new toy or a new playmate, but she wanted more than anything to find out.

I went quickly to my cache of doggie treats.  I neglected to tell the dog, "Stay," but I doubt it would've mattered.  I figure she waited all of three heartbeats --which by now were coming quickly for everyone involved-- before moving in on the bird.  I returned just in time to have the kinda swallow miss my shin by the breadth of a feather and skitter across the patio... right through the still-open sliding door into the house.  The dog trotted merrily after.  I looked at the treat in my hand, blinked, heaved a sigh, hung my head and followed.

The bird made a hard left turn just beyond the pots-and-pans cabinet, skipped through the kitchen like Armstrong and Aldrin, passed the nook where I am now relating these events to you and finally settled in a cubby hole formed by a coffee table book of Shel Silverstein sketches leaning against a spavined box of outdated printer paper.  The dog, fascinated, followed every bounce and veer.

Great.  I had a wild animal in my house: cornered, injured, terrified, with nasty-looking claws, a sharp beak and a quickness I might fool myself into thinking I possessed when I was younger, but certainly not now.  On top of that, I've always had a low threshold for icky.

It took the better part of ten minutes to drag the dog into a bedroom and shut the door so I could deal with the bird without interference.  Like the antagonist in the story of Noah's ark --and just to be abundantly clear, by antagonist I mean God-- I have a softer spot in my heart for most animals than I do for most humans (although it should be pointed out there were more homo sapiens on that boat than there were of any other species).  I'd ask you to forgive the impiety of that attitude, but apparently we don't use that word around here.  Still, I wanted that bird out of my house... and I wanted it done without having to touch it.  There are people in this world who handle birds all the time.  Not only am I not one of them, I have never wanted to be.  I considered calling Animal Control, but it was now 7:30 in the p.m., and even if I could get hold of somebody, and even if they didn't laugh me off the phone for being afraid of a little bird, they weren't going to come out and deal with it that night.

Time for some rugged individualism.  I took a few minutes to breathe and formulate a plan.  I took a few more because I didn't want to go through with it.  Meanwhile the dog, who suffers from separation anxiety, uncorked a ululating wail that had just the right harmonics to rattle windows and cause temporary blindness.  I took a few more minutes, making sure not only of the plan, but of the contingencies.

I donned a beige baseball cap that advertises a hunting and fishing lodge in northern Ontario --the closest thing I have to a hardhat-- and a pair of thick work gloves, all the while wishing I'd played catcher at some point in my life and still had the gear.  I also grabbed a fireplace poker and a cardboard box.  While roomy enough to transport a bird fifty feet to the great outdoors, its lid was of the four-folding-leaf variety.  What I really needed was a box with a fitted lid, like a shoebox or, heh, the spavined box of printer paper the kinda swallow was currently snuggling up to.

I used the poker to gently move Shel Silverstein.  The bird let out a chirp and twisted about an inch.  I let out a womanly shriek and jumped three feet.  It took five minutes for my skin to catch up with me.  By then I could hear the dog churning away at the carpet, trying to tunnel under the bedroom door.  I looked at the bird.  At the very least, my dog had shorn it of tail feathers.  It was probably a goner, but I still didn't want to be the entity that ended it.  Like a fool, I tried to reassure the damned thing: telling it suavely that I didn't want to hurt it, I was just going to take it back outside.  I don't think it believed me.  I took a deep breath and moved in... and the phone rang.  I only jumped a foot and a half.  (The call, it turned out, was from One F-- a fellow contributor to this site.)  I missed the call because I was afraid my heart couldn't take the exertion of lifting the receiver.

In the end I abandoned the cardboard box in favor of clapping a sizeable saucepan over the bird and sliding a wafer-thin plastic cutting board under it.  The kinda swallow probably had to do a double hotfoot, like a batter jump-roping an inside pitch in the dirt, but by then I had sacked up enough to not care overly much.  I released it into its natural habitat.  It hopped across the yard and under a bush and started chirping.  Its mate came along and sat atop the fence.  The two of them had a rather lengthy conversation.  What they ultimately decided I couldn't say.

Surprisingly, there was but one small and blessedly firm sample of bird-type-feces in the now deconstructed cubby hole.  I used, like, six layered paper towels and the souvenir glove from a Breaking Bad haz-mat suit to remove it.

P.S.... Bud "As a Connoisseur of Such Things, I Prefer a Thumbing of the Nose to a Flipping of the Bird" Selig must go.

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