Vol. 9, No. 32
August 9-15, 2001
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Winging It
by Sonia L. Linebaugh

In just a minute, she’d have to leave the kitchen table and her morning coffee. In just a minute. She delayed, slightly annoyed by the fluttering sound of a gas-powered hedge-trimmer cutting into the silent morning. The engine didn’t catch. Sounded erratic. Stopped.

Started. Bss-bsss. Just like a dentist’s tool. As if a yard were a mouth with plaque build-up. But this morning the sound wasn’t quite right.

She took a mental inventory. Yesterday’s odd sounds had proven to be a load of fine stones being delivered to the downhill house. Later had come the sound of a pipe being pounded into the ground for a new well. That was up at the top of Arundel Road. In the quiet of this Bay community, every sound had a meaning, a source.

What was this sound? Might as well walk through to the front porch and check the heat of today’s sun. Decide whether she’d need the air conditioner later on. Maybe spot the source of that odd fluttering sound. There it was again. Not from outside, but here, inside the house. Ah - a frightened and fluttering female cowbird in the fireplace.

Okay, she told the bird aloud. Let me see how I can help you. What had she done about that red-bellied woodpecker a few years ago? Then, there had been no screen at the fireplace and the woodpecker flew wildly around the house knocking futilely against windows until, exhausted, it had dropped onto the dish drainer. She had scooped it up in both hands, elbowed the loose window outward and held the woodpecker out. She opened her hands; sensing freedom, the bird was gone in a panic of wings.

Now the fireplace was screened, the windows replaced with Andersons that would require cranking and pulling out screens. Maybe she could use a container to catch the bird if she moved the fire screen just enough to let it come in her direction. She looked for something suitable while assuring the bird, which alternated between flinging itself against the screen and hiding under the grate: Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to get you out.

She finally located a small plastic basin, brought it to the fireplace screen, pulled an edge slowly back and out the bird flew - but not into the basin. Up it flew, through the open center of the house to thud against a clearstory window. By the time she ran up the stairs, it was flapping, flapping at a bathroom window. She opened three windows along the front of the house and tried to persuade the bird in that direction. Panicked, it flew out from behind the curtain and dropped exhausted onto a stack of tiles that would some day line the wall of the new shower. She grabbed a towel from the rack and dropped it over the shivering bird, picked it up and sat it outside the window on the porch roof.

As the towel lifted, the cowbird took off, flew fast and far out toward the Bay, then circled around behind a couple of huge old silver maples. A small drama in her human life.

She wondered about the bird. Would she, could she, tell another about this fright? The dark shaft, the imprisoning screen, the big creature who threatened, the attempted escape only to beat against a hardness in the sky, exhaustion, more darkness and then, finally, freedom? Would she, could she, tell?

Chuckling, the human finally sat at the computer and organized her day’s assignments. Not 30 minutes passed before she heard a sound that stood out against the other morning sounds. Rustle. Rustle. What? Could it be? Yes, the cowbird had fallen again into the fireplace. As soon as she saw the human, she calmed down, sat on the fire grate with head cocked to one side as if in expectation.

Okay, okay, the human said. Hold on. She ran upstairs, closed off bedroom and bathroom, then opened the door to the upstairs porch. Back down at the fireplace, she pulled the screen away and set the bird free.

Up she flew. Thud.

By the time the human ran again up the stairs, the bird had found a way out. They’d both learned from the first incident.

Sonia Linebaugh writes from Fairhaven Cliffs where two more incidents with birds in the house have convinced her that she must put netting around the top of the chimney.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly