A Saturday in spring. We had just gotten home and because it was light out he was saved. He’d never have made it through the night. The tiny little furry sparrow who laid in the grass under the large apple tree in the backyard of my parents’ house.
The memory isn’t a sharp one but it stays with me for some reason. Seeing the neighbor’s cat, Jinx, in our backyard wasn’t unusual. He and our cat, Septtoe, were friendly when they wanted to be. Septtoe, an indoor cat, would sit at the back door staring at Jinx through the screen door. Sometimes we’d let them play together but Septtoe became king of the jungle if out for too long. He was a devilish thing.
There was something about the way Jinx was sitting that made us nervous. Something about his intense stare and the way he had his paw up, as if he was waiting for a fly to land so that he could kill it in one swift move. It made Maria and I investigate, our bare feet quiet on the cool grass. We looked down and saw him, that baby bird just softly tweeting as if he’d tweeted himself hoarse calling for his mom to come get him. We remembered quickly that you weren’t supposed to touch baby animals because of the likelihood their parents would reject them. To this day I don’t know if that’s myth.
It was impossible to diagnose what was wrong. Whether he had a broken wing or was simply too young to fly. Either way, we couldn’t leave him there for Jinx to get.
Septtoe stood on high alert at the door as we shooed away Jinx and started making a plan.
There was an old, small aquarium in the basement, Maria pointed out.
We could use a rag or gardening gloves to pick him up, I suggested.
We carefully created a hospital room for the sparrow. Looking back, I’m proud at Maria and I – we never even thought about keeping him. We just wanted him to be safe. We wanted to help him and hopefully get him back to his mom. We put things in the aquarium that we thought would make him comfortable. We discussed, at length, how we were going to convince our parents to let us carry out the plan (they thought we were just playing in the yard). Finally, we gently scooped up the little guy (sadly, I can’t remember what we called him) and placed him in the aquarium. We had decided not to cover it – we didn’t want to restrict him. As soon as he could fly, we would let him go.
Into the house we went, Septtoe trailing behind us trying to see what we were doing. Maybe he could smell prey. My sister put off my dad, whispered to my mother who followed us downstairs. She was in awe. As much as she never admitted it when we were children, my mother has as much of a bleeding heart for a needy animal as I do.
It felt like we had him a whole summer but memory does that. Tricks you into thinking you did something countless times when really it was only once or twice. It makes you believe that events were larger than they were. It’s a nice construction, I’ll take it. I remember the excitement of the bird surviving the first night. I remember him slowing trusting us, doing his little hoppy flitter of wings to come to the bottom of the stairs when we clicked on the light at the bottom of the stairs before going down to the basement. He quickly started domesticating – something we knew we should avoid but couldn’t help.
There was an old freezer in the basement, one of those trunk type things that is about four feet high and five or six feet long. We placed him up there, placed cushions and pillows and blankets that were no longer used, but kept in the basement just in case around the whole area and we encouraged him to jump. He didn’t get it, but we kept trying. We would coax him to the edge, cheer him on, toss some food onto the soft ground below. He’d just throw himself over and eat his reward.
And then one day we noticed he wasn’t really fluffy anymore. One day we noticed he had wings instead of fuzz. And when we went to the basement steps that morning he moved toward us with a flap that looked like the start of flight. No longer the hoppy flitter of wings. More the flapping walk of a bird ready to face the world.
It was a tough time, that morning. Taking him gently in our hands (he still let us hold him) we went upstairs, through the living room praying that the King hadn’t figured out that all he had to do was get above us and do a surprise attack. Through the living room, around the corner to the dining room, my sister opened the back door for me once we made our way through the porch. We put him on the ground and he tweeted like mad.
And then it happened so quickly it was over before we knew it. A larger sparrow appeared in the apple tree, made a huge fuss and then flew down next to him. She checked him out, he checked her out. She took flight and right behind her he did the same. They flew up to a branch in the apple tree and that was it. Reunited. Healed. Our little guy left us for the life he was supposed to live.