Birds not of a Feather
They halted our demolition of a building temporarily–two fledglings huddled in a mud and grass nest. But, when the mother hadn’t returned by the next day and the babies were peeping furiously, I was elected to raise them. Actually, the rest of my husband’s family humored me. In this heat, without a mother, they considered the two birds dead meat that just hadn’t quit squawking yet.
I tried various foods including worms and raw hamburger but after a day I almost surrendered. The tiny creatures would allow me to drip water down their throat but they wanted no part of any food I tried to give them. Grasshoppers grabbed their attention though and they began to eat. I gathered and mashed bugs until, when I closed my eyes in bed at night, I pictured tiny insect heads crunching between my teeth.
The birds began to follow me around the house. Eventually, I would wander the meadows with the two jauntily perched on my shoulder. Occasionally, they would rise, flapping and tweeting in the air around me as if I were a cartoon character who had been bonked on the head.
As was common a couple of times every summer back then, The Marijuana Eradication Team (MET) arrived not far from our home. As the camouflage wearing officers, handcuffed a neighbor woman, the community gathered on the hillside to observe. The birds and I joined them. We watched as large white pickups were filled to overflowing with heaps of dark green sensimilla. The mood among the community members was grim. Several had lost plants from raids in other places that day and nearly everyone sympathized with the older woman being tucked into the squad car.
Even with the community in an uproar, I had to keep feeding the peeps. Up the road from the activity, we three picked our way through the grass at the edge of the road looking for grasshoppers. But when the car with the woman drove away, the startled birds flew up in the air higher than normal. For some ungodly reason, though one returned to me, the other lit on a branch of marijuana hanging over from one of the pickup trucks.
And stayed there chirruping for me.
I tried to coax him back. I kept edging closer and closer. I eyed the officers with their long black guns. And they eyed me.
But I hadn’t always lived in the hills. My family had been friends with police officers. We shared many Fourth of July’s with a local CHP and his family. Finally, I called to the nearest, a guy about my age, “Could I get my bird, please?”
He stared grimly at me— but with a fluffy pink sweater, big eyes, and one bird on my shoulder cocking its head jauntily from side to side, he had a hard time maintaining a straight face. He started laughing. “This isn’t exactly regulation but I won’t tell if you won’t.” Motioning me to go ahead, he and the others watched as I scooped the cheerful peep from his sticky branch.
As I headed back to the rest of the community, the birds chirruping and hopping from my head to my shoulders, my knees were shaking as if I had been in actual danger and, judging by the fuss everyone made of me, the neighbors felt the same.
Eventually, MET left and within a month the birds were gone also. For many years, MET returned a couple of times every summer but I never saw my birds again. And I rarely saw the human side of the officers who came either. It takes a lot of magic and little bit of laughter to bridge the gap between hill folk and city cops.
Photo by Kevin Church