We've been a wee bit obsessed with all things winged here at the Jedi Temple Academy. The boys' fascination with World War I aircraft continues apace. Rhys is in D.C. with Grammy and whiled away several hours looking at the vintage planes in the Air & Space Museum. Fisher draws ever more elaborate (and crowded) scenes of aerial battle, and just informed me that the SPAD XIII was "the most durable plane in the war. And Fokker DR-1s were slow, and if you tried to dive them, their wings would pop off." (Sounds like a design flaw.)
But it's not just metal-winged, human-piloted contraptions that have been holding the boys' interest. Since moving to a house that's surrounded by mature trees, we've had much more opportunity to hear and see birds of every sort first-hand. From darting, jewel-throated hummingbirds to the murders of crows that croak and flap at us as we pass, our neighborhood is packed with feathered friends.
And like all good secular homeschoolers, we're also overly fond of David Attenborough and his canon of well-written, gorgeously filmed nature series. Fisher and I recently started watching The Life of Birds, revelling in the slo-mo footage of peregrine falcons diving (at 200 mph!) down upon sparrows, crossbills delicately extracting green seeds from pine cones, flocks of thousands of swifts spiraling and diving in incredible precision.
Yesterday, we woke up early (oh, so very early) to join a group from Portland's Audubon Society on a walk around the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, looking at all manner of birds through binoculars and spotting scopes. (Our friends Howard and Suzanne let us borrow their awesome Nikon binoculars; the trip would've really been kind of a wash without them, especially since I'm bat-blind and can't see a damn thing.) We saw two nesting osprey families; one nest even had chicks visible in it, and the male of the other pair spent several minutes flying around with a huge carp flopping in his talons. We saw a peregrine falcon perched hundreds of feet up on a TV tower, surveying his domain. We saw (and heard) great blue herons in the swamps; we learned to identify the shrill calls of peewees and towhees and the rolling warbles of song sparrows and golden-crowned kinglets.
The trip was three hours long, and I was afraid Fisher would poop out before we were done–but he stayed engaged, fascinated and polite the entire time. He had questions for our guide ("What is the little gray bird with ruffled feathers that hides under bushes?" Most likely, our guide told us, a bushtit.), he looked at bird after bird very carefully, he made admirable tries at copying the bird calls. In short, he did a great job.
Then yesterday afternoon, as Fisher and I were walking home from the library, we saw something tiny and squirming on the ground under a maple tree. It was a baby bird, fledged but still very small, with a broken leg, peeping in distress.
I knew we should probably spare ourselves the trouble and leave it where it was. But Fisher's eyes were so sad, and he looked at me so hopefully, that there wasn't really much else I could do. I scooped it into a paper cup (thank goodness we'd stopped at a front-yard lemonade stand a block before!) and we carried it home. We made it a bed of a folded towel in a cardboard box and shut it safely away in the bathroom, planning to take it to the Audubon rescue center today.
Fisher checked on it obsessively throughout the early evening. And at about seven o'clock, he came out of the bathroom with wide, shocked-looking eyes.
"The bird… I think it's…" He trailed off.
"It's not alive?" I asked him, not wanting to say "dead."
He nodded. A tear spilled down his cheek. "It's not moving at all."
I went in and looked; the poor thing was definitely no longer with us.
"I'm sorry, Fisher." What else can you say? I felt all the feelings that every mother in that same situation–I think every mother at some point–has felt. You did what you could, and it wasn't enough, and you knew going into it that it probably wouldn't be enough.
We buried the bird under the tree in the park strip in front of the house, where we thought it wouldn't be disturbed by future gardeners. Fisher picked a red petunia and a pink rose to decorate its grave. Then he went inside and silently rampaged through the house, knocking over furniture and sweeping everything off the bathroom counter. "Life is F'in SHITE," he scrawled on a piece of paper.
What can you say? What can you do? The bird is gone, and only having had it for a few hours doesn't seem to do anything to dull the little boy's pain.
Do you remember this Calvin and Hobbes series, when Calvin found the injured baby raccoon? Yeah.
I'm leaving today (as soon as I finish this post, in fact) for four days in Salt Lake. I think when I get back I'll see what other birding walks are coming up; it's worth it, even if it means prying myself and Fisher out of bed at some hideous ungodly hour.