Sunday, August 22, 2010

Out of the Blue
One sunny spring morning when Bethany was four, she wondered around the yard, inspecting this and that while I cut the grass. She spotted something flopping about under the lilac bush. It was a young bird, a blue jay, apparently injured, and Bethany stooped down and picked it up. Holding the helpless creature against her breast, Bethany attempted to restore it to health with soothing, kind and loving words. But Bethany wasn’t the only one awash in maternal instincts that morning. The mother blue jay swooped down and pecked Bethany on the head. She dropped the fledgling and ran crying into the house. Debbie cleaned her wound, which wasn’t much of a wound, and called the doctor to ask if there were precautions we ought to take. Beth should be fine, he said, just keep an eye on it for a few days as you would any injury. Fifteen minutes later, Bethany was back at the lilac bush, but the young bird was gone and never seen again.
Years later, after my nest had emptied, I was eating dinner one evening while my housemate, Murphy, a ten year old beagle-border collie mix, was in the backyard. At her age, Murphy had seen it all and seldom got excited, except when she saw me with leash in hand, ready to take her for a walk. But something had grabbed her attention. A few desultory barks were followed by a few more desultory barks, which were followed by an uninterrupted stream of I-mean-business barks. I got up from the table and went to the backdoor, prepared to deliver a stern reprimand. But Murphy, barking angrily and straining to break free of her chain, didn’t so much as acknowledge me. I followed her eyes to the garage. On the roof, a squirrel stared down at her, taunting her, egging her on, and thoroughly enjoying the display of canine frustration it had created. There was nothing handy to throw at the squirrel, and I was about to pull Murphy back inside when a blue jay swooped down behind the offensive creature and reduced it to its natural state: a sniveling, frightened rodent fleeing hastily and leaving a trail of urine.
Now, the mother blue jay pecked Bethany on the head for obvious reasons. But why did the blue jay shoo away the squirrel that was bugging Murphy? Did it feel sorry for Murph? Did it understand that to silence the dog it had to get rid of the squirrel? Or, was the blue jay hungry? Blue jays eat small invertebrates, and that squirrel turned out to be one spineless creature.

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