Our decorative bird bath is Mojave dry, so when a couple of backyard Phoebes flit nearby, I fill the 2-gallon Rubbermaid watering can and pour a stream into the basin for them. They hover but don’t drink.
Then my husband calls out, “What’s that squirrel doing?” I look up, diverted, at the power pole in the corner of our yard, where the critter is leisurely chewing on the cables.
“Oh my gosh, stupid thing.” I yank an orange off our tree and lob it at the squirrel. It makes a neat arc into the neighbor’s yard. The squirrel smirks. After a couple more misses, I give up. The squirrel shrugs and wanders nimbly across the span.
That’s when I look back down to see Bonnie at my feet, homing in on a tiny bundle of feathers.
“Bonnie, no!” I shove (okay, kind of kick) her away from a baby bird, which is still miraculously alive. A few moments later, the little thing hops over behind a bush, Mom and Dad close by.
“You probably knocked it out of its nest when you pulled the oranges off,” my husband volunteers.
I’m horrified. My evening of backyard bliss is careening violently sideways.
Bonnie has now migrated over to Dan’s lap, where she trembles, wondering what she did wrong. Hadn’t we just had chicken for dinner? Could someone please explain the difference? her offended expression telegraphs.
I look at Dan with Bassett Hound eyes, my stomach crumpled into a sorry wad of guilt. Then we both burst out laughing.
“Not much point trying to help Mother Nature out, is there?” I ask.
“Best to just leave it alone,” he agrees.
The next day, though, I refuse to let the dogs into the backyard. Mama and Papa bird are still there, chirping in a minor key, along with their baby who clearly should still be in the nest. I work from home and Google what to do with a grounded fledgling. Did you know they can take 1-2 weeks before they’re able to fly?
When my practical and kind-hearted spouse gets home, he drags out a length of spare plastic fencing and goes to work, attempting to construct a protective pen around the tiny bird. I keep a close watch on Bonnie.
Just then, Buster discovers the fun new play toy.
And that, as they say, is that.
Dan grabs the clueless mutt by the collar and pulls him away. Then looks at me and shakes his head. He gets newspaper and wraps the tiny bundle gently, while I apologize over and over to the mother and father bird—still flitting frantically, looking for their offspring.
It’s just too much.
Suddenly, the little pair symbolizes all that is wrong in the world. The tragedy of parents who can’t protect their children. The suffering of unendurable loss and uncertainty. So. Much. Pain.
And we can’t even save a baby bird.
My husband puts the fencing away. I sprinkle out a little extra birdseed in pathetic consolation. We are silent the rest of the evening.
Over the next couple of days, though, I’m surprised that the two birds continue to show up. They exhibit the same attentive behavior as before, mostly centered around our neighbors’ tree just over the fence. Then, as Dan is outside reading, he calls me to come quickly. Still clutching a dish towel, I rush from the kitchen to see a smaller, fluffier Phoebe tottering on the line above his head.
We grin and exchange a sloppy high-five, celebrating the tenacity and triumph of life.