Friday, May 29, 2015
Almost a cardinal sin
I was trimming a bush today - you know, those evergreen ones with the hard little leaves with a half dozen needle sharp points to do you in - and taking great care because I knew there was a cardinals' nest in the center of the bush. For years now, smart birds, usually mockingbirds, have been building there, realizing that even my ornery cats aren't going to expose themselves to lots of excruciating pain trying to maneuver through the bush to destroy the eggs or the baby birds.
Unfortunately, upon the first or second snap of my clippers, two startled baby cardinals plummeted out of their nest and through the bottom of the bush, hopped a half dozen hops, and then made what I believe was the first flight of their life. Mamma and Poppa bird materialized out of nowhere and started making warning chirps and circling the cardinal Wright brothers. (Or sisters.)
I observed the commotion for a time, and when it appeared that the little fellows had the ability to fly short distances and attain sufficient height, I assumed all would be well, even though I'm certain flying lessons weren't scheduled that day.
Continuing to trim, I glanced over my shoulder at some point and saw Tiger, one of our three city cats, stretched against the chainlink fence, paws above her head, like she was going to leap or climb up the fence - something she just might be able to do but something she wouldn't do. Would she? Raising my gaze a few feet, I spotted one of the baby cardinals sitting on the top rail of the fence, three feet from my cat's paws. Tiger was poised to pounce and all of a sudden I saw me spending weeks agonizing over the fact that it was my fault that the baby birds had exited their nest prematurely and one of them ended up as Tiger's brunch.
Momma and Poppa Cardinal were swooping like the Red Baron, screaming out warnings to the clueless chick. I dropped the clippers and grabbed Tiger by the scruff of her neck and carried her to the patio. Simultaneously, the baby Cardinal, already sporting a little mohawk-looking cardinal peak, took the longest flight of his (or her) life, managing to wing his (or her) way across the back yard to the top of the fence on the other side.
Catastrophe avoided. As long as both birds kept moving and I kept an eye on my cats. Which I did and was able to feel completely at ease when, after a few minutes, I noticed that both babies and both parents had made it to the stand of trees at the edge of my back pasture.
Later, I encountered a pouting Tiger in the basement. Already the most standoffish of the three, she was, at this moment, particularly perturbed by me. And I knew it was because I had intervened on behalf of the baby bird. And I'm sure Tiger couldn't understand why I had chosen to preserve the bird as opposed to allowing nature, and her cat instincts, to take their course.
So, I chose to tell Tiger the story of how she and her sister Gracie and brother Rocky came to have the life they've had for the last eight years. How one late afternoon in July, we had discovered some evil people in a Toyota parked on a country road and reaching into their trunk and throwing things out. And those "things" were Momma Kitty and her three kittens. And how they had hit the ground running and disappeared into the woods. And I told Tiger, pulling her toward me and scratching her behind her ears in an attempt to smooth things over, how the four of them were on the side of that dirt and gravel road the next morning. Looking like forlorn little hitchhikers, flea-bitten bags of bones, hungry, thirsty, and near death. And I told Tiger how we had rescued them and slowly nursed them back to health, and, except for maybe stepping on the toes of their cat nature a few times over the years, how we had given them a chance for a pretty doggone good life.
And, Tiger, I said, that's why I saved that baby bird from you. The same reason I saved you. To give it a chance for a good life.
Of course, Tiger didn't really care. She pulled away from me, walked over to her water bowl, got a drink, and then disappeared through her cat door, tail high in the air and twitching with agitation. Leaving me sitting there without even a glance over her shoulder. Not even a bored yawn or dismissive gaze. Out the door and into the yard. Gone.
Probably to try to hunt down that very lucky little bird.