It’s spirit week at my school, meaning the students dress up as a theme each day. Wednesday was “zoo day,” and as a teacher balancing end-of-year projects, standardized testing, makeup work, and end-of-year “excitement,” I feel some days like a zookeeper.
We also just finished reading The Life of Pi, a story in which the protagonist thrives in telling stories, many involving the human-like qualities of animals. The novel highlights the sense of wonder the protagonist experiences at the grand design of the universe. This week, I found my own “wonder” as I got to enjoy my own “zoo” of sorts.
Imagine: it’s a cool night, the humidity finally low, and I’m propped on a rock retaining wall, pulling stubborn new shoots of Rose of Sharon out of the garden. Yesterday’s rain had softened the soil, and it’s easier work than usual. My two corgis are sitting in the grass, calmly sniffing the air.
I’m pulling weeds indiscriminately, throwing them into a pile behind me. I’m trying to be careful, stay clean. A particularly tough shoot of Rose of Sharon sends a speck of dirt into my eye. It wedges between my contact lens and my eyelid. I should have known; it was a sign.
Go inside. Watch TV.
But I ignore it. It’s too nice out, and besides, I’m a weeding maniac. I had set out to weed only one-third of the garden, but things are going so well, I might just finish the whole thing!
All is well until a chirping of birds crescendos. Leia and Yoda take off, and nature’s peaceful symphony is ruptured, replaced by squawks and squeals.
Startled, I jump from the retaining wall. Covered in dirt, wearing gloves, and dropping gardening shears along the wall, I hurry to find the corgis circling a rather large baby bird that is plopped in the middle of the driveway. I have no idea how it got there.
The bird’s parents circle the dogs overhead, chirping alarm. Yoda, the good dog, backs off right away, eyeing the situation from afar. The bad one, Leia, ever curious, continues circling the bird, getting within millimeters of it, her nose vibrating. The bird reacts by spreading its wings, screeching, a technique that serves only to increase Leia’s curiosity.
I push myself between Leia and the bird, staring down at it. It calms immediately, looking up at me as if—almost as if it expects me to do something helpful. But it looks so fragile, I’m afraid to pick it up.
My commands mean nothing to Leia, and though she’s never hurt an animal (well, okay, there was that mouse that one time), I don’t want the bird to have a heart attack or anything (can birds have heart attacks?).
Perplexed and frustrated, but also very curious about the bird, I cease my unheeded commands and grab the corgi, still wearing my gardening gloves. I bring the dogs inside, and an amused husband commences to start a photo session, documenting the plight of the driveway bird. Turns out, it was in the middle of a not-very-successful-flying-lesson. Upon further investigation, he finds two tiny (really really tiny) baby birds just hanging out silently in a bush. They seem indifferent to everything happening, and even our camera (and finger, see photo—for size comparison purposes) don’t seem to bother them.
The parent birds continue squawking at their offspring, guiding it through clumsy flutters into another densely-weeded garden (guess I won’t be weeding that one anytime soon), and I continue weeding.
I stuff the pile of weeds into one of those brown paper yard waste bags and head inside. My first instinct is to shower, but the dogs are wound up, so I change my pants into shorts and cuddle with the dogs for a bit first. I marvel at the wonder of the interactions among three unlikely species.
I learn only later that one of those “weeds” was actually poison ivy. My arms continue to break out, and even my legs, which had been covered, start to itch. I realize too late that when I grabbed Leia with my gloved hands, I probably spread a bit of poison ivy oil onto her coat, which then spread back onto me when we cuddled. She has now been bathed, as have all the clothes.
Still, it was an interesting night. I learned that a human can’t frighten a bird, a bird can’t intimidate a dog, a crazy dog can’t be made to listen to a human, and Mother Nature always gets the last laugh.
Oh, and thank goodness for calamine lotion.