bumpy flight

by bam

no one said flying was easy. somehow, though, it hurts to watch, it hurts to see a little guy make a bumpy landing.
problem is, no one saw the descent, so no one knew if the finely-feathered baby bird had fallen from the nest, or merely missed the runway.
and that is where this story begins.
but before i do, let me back up, just a little.
all day, all week, i had been playing mrs. kravitz, the nosey-body with binoculars from back in the nose-twitching glory days of “bewitched,” trying my darnedest to get a peek at the noisy little fellows up in the nest, up in the hole just above the very door we go in and out all day.
every once in a while i’d see two beaks, and just the barest bit of chin–if a bird might be said to have a chin–poking from the nest, the nest i call the peep hole for the incessant peeping that goes on in there.
and once i’d seen the teeny-tiny beaks, i, like every hungry critter on the planet, wanted more. so, out came the step ladder. not high enough. out came the tippy toes on the tippy top of the step ladder. still not high enough.
dang, i felt defeated. i would have to do, for now, with just the littlest bit of beaks.
but then last night rolled around.
i was out back. my boys were headed out for swimming.
it was the little one, towel wrapped under arm, idly waiting for the swimmers who were not so in a hurry, not so anxious to try out their new-found floating skills as he was, who leaned against the glass, looked down, and there, saw the little bird not where the bird, or the boy, expected the bird to be.
apparently, mama bird did not either. she was squawking up a holy terror. perched up there on serviceberry, waking up the sleeping neighbors, had they dared to try to sleep through mama sparrow’s feather-raising racket.
it’s at this point in the story that i am called to the scene. it’s either that i once was a nurse and thus i will ever be inclined to heal the hurting, or maybe it’s just that i’m the mom around here, and when something’s wrong, you call the mom. (see below)
either way, i got the call. the manchild was the one who did the calling. loudly. pushed back the screen door, broke the quiet of the summer’s eve with a three-syllable “mo-o-omm!” and then the news: “a bird fell out of the nest, it’s on the ground, we need you. hurry. now. ”
and so i dropped the garden tool i’d been flinging, i loped in full-throttle lope. in fact, i’d say i ran.
as i came upon the scene, my brain did one of those unscramblings that tries to line up all the scattered pieces. the little one–my little one, not the baby bird, at least not that i could tell–was in tears and shaking. his towel he clutched as if a life saver. “he lost a leg. he lost a leg,” he kept repeating. “he only has one leg.”
i crouched down close, after first turning to the poor dear squawking mama and promising her i would be gentle. would she please give me permission? lucky thing i didn’t refuse to treat until she’d signed consent. that seems to be the way of medicine these days.
but here, we were operating out of something akin to tending wounded knees of our very own. this here was family.
after all, after all these months of watching, this little clutch of birds felt very much ours. they’d picked our door. they’d allowed us into the sacred building of a nest, and a whole next sparrow generation; we were not about to let a flying lesson go bad here, right on our front stoop, which you see is rather a poopy stoop these days.
(i actually have been out there scrubbing, but if you dined on whole cicadas–which to a baby bird must be like chowing down a whole darn cow–you too might be messy, in the poopy stoop department.)
indeed, the baby bird was shaking. and i was pretty sure it had two swell legs, it’s just that all those scrambled feathers were in the way of one. the little thing did not look hurt, just shaken. just a little what-the-heck-just-happened.
my first thought was to lift the little guy back into the nest. but my second thought, as always in a crunch, nature or otherwise: “call mom.” (see above)
and so i dialed the original mother nature, who calmly, coolly, said, “oh no,” to the nest idea.
“does it have its feathers?” she inquired.
“fully feathered,” i reported back.
well, then, she counseled, lift it to the grass, or just beneath a bush, where it will be safe, and where the mama will come to tend it. or else, nature will take its course.
egad. not that. not some dismal denouement to this once-expectant winged tale. that heartbreak i could not take. i am a die-hard believer in the never-ending fairy tale. i want life to work out every time. please, God.
so, like that, unwilling to stand back and watch this “nature take its course” brutal turn, i leapt the stairs, taking two steps at a time. i plunged my arm into the depths of the medicine cupboard, the one where still i keep my nursing supplies and various leftovers from emergency room visits.
i groped around. at last i found the box of latex gloves, perhaps the single most important item in that closet. i seem to get into all sorts of messes that call for those stretchy goo-protecting gloves.
gloves on, i was ready. mama bird, by now, was going nuts. poor thing would need a lozenge in the morning.
once again, i cooed and tried to calm the baby. and then, the most amazing thing, i had a bird, a blessed feathered thing, right there in my hand. but i moved it to the bush. in this case, the bird in the bush was better than the one in the hand.
although, i have to say, i did get a shiver down my spine as i felt that little thing against my palm. i will not forget the teeny tiny scratch of baby birdie feet against my skin, er, my latex-shielded skin.
and i did feel engaged in something holy, lifting the poor, chest-pounding little creature from its crash site to a softer, shady harbor.
the very second i put it down, on the soft cool earth, beneath an evergreen bough, it hopped. it hopped right up onto a rock, where it just sat. we watched each other. i had no clue what would happen next. my boys were barring the doors, keeping the ferocious hunter cat from anywhere near. i prayed a little prayer that all would be well, then i did what my mama said, i left it to the whims of nature. all would be well, or all would not be. i had to let it go.
the drama at a pause, the boys went off swimming, the baby bird cowered, and i tried to go back to my task, the one out back.
but then i had second thoughts. i was going to put that bird where it belonged, back in the nest. so i hauled back out my ladder. i got another pair of gloves. then i peeked under the bush. no bird. no squawking. and i knew the cat was duly locked inside.
that was when the hope fluttered in. that was when i knew the bird had not fallen. it had indeed been in the middle of a flying lesson when it missed its little mark.
heck, the hole is little. if i were just learning to spread my wings, to fly, i too might miss that teeny tiny peep hole.
fast forward to this morning: i’ve been watching. baby bird is out there as i type. he or she, let’s just say it, is taking baby flights. with mama and papa coaching from a branch just above or just below, the blessed little thing is making short flaps from honey locust to serviceberry and back again.
i stood there nearly in tears. my baby bird survived. my baby bird is flying.
that i should be a witness to this marvel of growing up leaves me tingling here this morning.
it’s like that, isn’t it? we try, we fall, we make it back to our feet. and then, at last, it’s easy. we wing our way from branch to branch. we catch the breeze; we’re flying.
i do believe God opened a little sacred window, let me in, let me marvel. the baby bird might have caught its breath, but i believe mine was just swept away.
Godspeed, baby bird.

although i am groggy tired here this morning, i wanted you to witness, close as words would let us come together, the miracle of my baby bird. first bumbled up and shaking there on the bluestone step. now, hopping through the trees. all is well. no more squawking. have you ever watched a baby bird learn to fly? have you ever watched one stumble? is it not the most sacred thing to be a student at the school of winged things?