Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Samson the Squirrel Begets Nostalgia for Peter the Bird

Samson the Squirrel holds residence in our maple tree. He is also out to get me. Yes, as I was putting up a birdfeeder in our front lawn, Samson ran amuck in the branches above, trying to pull down the tree on what he saw as a trespasser. In this vein, he is much like his biblical namesake who pulled a building down around him, killing all within. Fortunately, he apparently did not have God's help in this herculean feat, as the best he could do was upset a few leaves and rain down helicopter seeds all around me.

Today I was watching Samson eye me suspiciously as he tried to raid the birdseed (through an anticipated event, the birdfeeder showered her seedy goodness all around as the bottom fell out). He is pretty twitchy when he's nervous, and his tail shakes madly as he twitters. Once or twice it spooked him as it brushed his back unexpectedly. As I spied on Samson, I was reminded of my time as a surrogate mother to another wild creature.

During my year off between high school and college, I became a foster mother. Yes, one day when playing with my daycare charges, I saw some huddled by the building, studying something intently. As I approached, I saw a broken nest was on the ground, and several baby birds dead next to it. I shooed the students away and joined them in their mourning.

There did seem to be one stalwart bird, against all odds having survived the harrowing fall. I wanted the mother bird to have an opportunity to return to her child, so I intently watched from a distance with the others. There was no sign at all of a bird in the proximity. I contemplated trying to rescue said bird when I left work, but I had agreed to babysit three daycare siblings, and as I wanted them to have my full attention, I abandoned the hopeless bird.

As I returned home late that night, I relayed the story to my dad as I bemoaned the fact that there was a cold spring rain coming down. He was sure the bird was dead, but Mom offered to drive me back to work if I wanted to complete my act of mercy. Alas, I was afraid the bird had met its end, so I remained home. (Additionally, I recognized that it is not recommended to care for wild creatures, and when well-meaning but inept people try, it often ends in an early demise of said wild creature. So this is my disclaimer: Don't try to rescue stray creatures, do all you can to not get involved. This said, I didn't follow my own advice.)

The next morning as I approached work, I stopped in the drizzle to examine the bird. Sure enough, it wasn't moving. I was certain it had frozen, and berated myself for having not been more in the spirit of Mother Teresa the night before and blast all who said otherwise!

However, fate was not through. Later we noticed the bird had only been
mostly dead. I had studied up on bird care and transported my new baby home. Oh, the proud parent that was born at that moment! The daycare children worked with me to name my baby, and I've since forgotten the ridiculous name, because as I took care of this bird, I dreamt one night that I headed off to college, only to receive a frantic call from my mother that my bird had returned to our house the following spring and had gotten inside our home. In dreamland, I rushed home from college, opened the front door, and cried, "Peter!" as he happily alit on my extended finger. So the name stuck.

Peter and I had a rich life. He ate raw hamburger (an acceptable substitute to worms) and accompanied me to the park. Soon, jealous of the flying fowl around him, he gained feathers and began the art of flight. I helped him best I could, and after a few attempts which ended in crash landings into tree trunks and windows, he got the hang of it. He loved perching on my shoulder and would chatter in response to my maternal attentions.

We fell into a comfortable routine. I fed him before leaving for work in the mornings. He would be free to do as he chose outside during the day, I would return after work and give him some food, and once dark fell, I enclosed him in a cage outdoors so that he would be safe from prowlers. Alas, one fateful night, I stayed at work for our delightful spring program, and when I returned home, Peter was nowhere to be found. I walked the block, scoping out hiding places while my ears were tuned for any familiar chirp. None at all.

There was no evidence Peter met his fateful end that day, so while it's likely he was too trusting of the neighborhood dog or friendly with a car grill, I like to think Peter wanted to find an available, attractive sparrow and left home to start his family. As the adage claims, he is gone, but not forgotten!

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