A Sick Bird Story
by Denis Rouse, July 6, 2016
Generally it can be said with some accuracy that Ralph Weinstein likes birds, especially the many beautiful species – the eagles, the hawks, the quail, the meadowlarks — that do not defecate on the clear cedar boards of the deck that surrounds three quarters of his abode here in Big Valley. That description excludes the dense flocks of Brewer’s blackbirds that migrate here in early spring to consume insects, copulate and raise their young in nests ubiquitous in the sagebrush, junipers and shrubs that encircle Ralph’s domicile here on the high plains of NE California where the view of the sky above and the land below streams for many miles from every window of Ralph’s house.
Ralph customarily gets up early to make it tentatively (he’s 74) to his sprinkler valve box wherein exist the five valves he utilizes to activate, in turn, each of the five sets of nine Rainbird sprinklers required to irrigate his absurd lawn. We say absurd here because Ralph’s lawn comprises several thousand square feet and needs an absurd amount of water and herbicidal fertilizer to keep it weed free and reasonably green from May to October when, hopefully, an early freeze gets the bastard at least thinking of going into winter dormancy. What’s the DOW slogan? Better Living Through Chemistry? My ass.
Anyway, back to the birds, the Brewer’s blackbirds (Euphagus Cyanocephalus) protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 that dive bomb Ralph’s head whenever he’s puttering around his absurd lawn, when he’s puttering too close to one of the blackbird nests, especially the one in the crown of a juniper shrub Ralph has trimmed to replicate a version of a bonsai tree in his wannabe Japanese Zen garden that includes a statue of Buddha, a concrete koi, a scale model of a Japanese bridge, and a stone Tokugawa lantern from the set of a Kurosawa film, maybe from Ran, the great Japanese director’s take on Shakespeare’s King Lear that includes a sex scene on a tatami mat floor that surpasses everything ever done in that genre with impeccable taste and astounding effect. When a local farmer friend of Ralph visited recently and observed Ralph’s Zen garden he said, Ralph, you’ve got too much time on your hands.
He was right, but back to the birds. On a recent morning said birds dive bombed Ralph’s head at such close proximity he was sure he felt a peck on his scalp, and then he said to himself, that’s it, time for the bird shot loaded in my Ruger single action .22 revolver. So here comes Ralph so armed and pissed, and two of the birds, obviously the male and his mate worrying about their nest, are circling above Ralph’s head croaking their awful croaks, whereupon Ralph aims his Ruger at one of them, pulls the trigger, and blows it out of the sky, it making a thump when it falls lifeless at Ralph’s size 12 Minnetonka moccasins. The other one, now furiously croaking outrage at Ralph from above (it’s the less dark plumaged female as Ralph can clearly see), whereupon Ralph aims the Ruger again, his shot brings the bird down mortally wounded, squirming, so Ralph ends her misery by stomping her lifeless with his goddamn size 12 Minnetonka moccasin.
Ralph feels guilty as hell after this egregious merciless heartless activity but later, as these things often go, bad goes to worse. As he pulls his truck out of the garage that evening to attend the local high school graduation ceremony, he notices what appears to be a downy ball of fur on the lawn, and upon closer inspection he sees it’s the five infant blackbirds he orphaned earlier that have obviously abandoned the nest. They scatter hungry and lost into the sagebrush upon his approach. Maybe they’ll make it, he thinks to himself, and then he expresses that hope to his girl Gwen who is well aware of his remorse.
Yeah, she says, sure they will.
On the way to the graduation, Ralph wonders were he to give the commencement speech to the kids about what he’s learned of remorse at 74, he’d suggest seeking solace in literature, such as in these stanzas from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ‘em woe:
For all averred I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! Said they,
The Bird to slay
That made the breeze to blow.
Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head
The glorious sun uprist.
Then all averred I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
T’was right, said they,
Such birds to slay
That bring the fog and mist.
There would be some wonderment in the audience why this sort of thing is appropriate in a commencement address unless in the unlikely event everyone present has read the entire poem, so Ralph would have to elaborate by concluding thusly: So, young ladies and gentlemen, as you now begin the occasionally terrifying cruise called the rest of your life, with Godspeed best hopes of your parents, teachers and friends, there are going to be times when you’re up against the ineluctable power of nature, especially human nature, and in that battle Uncle Ralph here wishes you the best of luck.