Last spring, I saw something moving in the grass in my front yard. It was a small baby bird that had fallen from our palm tree some 20 feet above. Amazingly, it wasn’t injured and shivered as my husband picked it up and cradled it in the palm of his hand. We went online and read that the best thing to do was ‘leave it in a place where the mom could find it and take care of it.’
I wanted to put the poor thing in a shoe box and feed it from an eyedropper. That’s what my brother and I used to do when we were kids, and truthfully most of our rescues died and then we’d cry. But, I think we had one that actually flew off after weeks of our careful ministering. Or maybe that’s just a revisionist memory that I’ve tinkered with for so long that now I can actually picture it and believe it to be true. I used to tell this sweet bird-rescue story to my niece and nephews when they were younger when they’d beg me to tell them stories about their dad when he was a kid. It put us in a much better light than saying, “Your dad used to throw eggs at cars on 4th Street as they were going onto the Coronado Bridge,” even though he did. Or telling them “I once had a wild party when I was 14 and your dad was 13, that resulted in a severely stained couch and a visit from the cops.” Now that they’re teenagers, I’m sure they’d much rather have details on the party and the egg-splattered windshield of speeding cars, but I’m not telling that story today.
Forty-five years later I’m still revising, editing and grappling with endings invented and true, and from this experience have come truths large and small. So when my ever-practical husband got on a ladder and nailed a plastic cup about ten-feet up from the ground onto the palm tree, I balked even though I didn’t have a better idea. He placed the baby bird along with a little grass and cotton into this makeshift nest of a plastic beer cup. “The mom will find him,” my husband enthused.
Thinking back to my childhood, I said, “A cat will find it first if it doesn’t die in the night.” But I admired my husband’s optimism and for a split second could imagine him as a little boy, one that still believed that most things work out. I on the other hand, knew better. So, the next morning when I went out for the newspaper and saw a goldfinch perched on the edge of the cup feeding the baby bird, I was surprised.
I continued to be suprised for 10 more days as the faithful mom fed the growing bird until it finally crawled up onto the ledge of the cup and tried to fly. Alas, here was the disaster I’d been waiting for. The bird promptly fell on its head and skittered in the lawn. Our dog went crazy and had to be restrained lest he gobble up the little flyer in one bite. My husband patiently picked up the bird and set him back in the cup. “He’ll just fall out again,” I said.
“I know,” said my husband, “but we can’t just leave it there.” For two more days the bird stayed put and the mom continued to come and feed it. And then of course, the bird tried to fly again and failed again. It was really so clumsy it caused me to wonder how any bird ever gets from the nest to the air and survives to eat worms and perch on telephone wires. This flying thing was turning out to be quite an ugly process.
The next day, our little beer-cup baby actually managed the skill of getting partially airborne, not exactly artful, but respectfully on the first branch of our next-door neighbor’s eucalyptus. Mom was still hovering, feeding and presumably teaching, but our bird had flown. Weeks later, and now months, I keep thinking I can identify our bird from the others hanging on in the trees next door, or sucking the nectar from our pineapple guava blossoms. In any event, I’m convinced Beer Cup, our little goldfinch, survived.
Finally I have a true story with a happy ending. And now sometimes when I pray, I start with something like this: “God, I know if you can take care of a baby bird in a beer cup, you can handle my problems…”