551. Time walks a pigeon-toed waddle

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Why start here?  I don’t know. Sometimes I just start a post in hopes of finding a destination, a bread crumb trail to gobble up, like pigeons out for a stroll. What do they find? Whatever they look for. And if they look for nothing, they may still find a crust of bread or a sunflower seed, maybe an ibuprofen. In the Google age it’s simple to find their diet,

Pigeons are natural seed eaters and only eat insects in small numbers. Normal pigeon diet is made of corn, wheat, cereals and other seed. Pigeons will add fruit and greens like lettuce, spinach, sprouted seeds, grapes  and apple in their diet. Or Skittles…

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Simple enough. They have adapted to humans all around the globe, showing up in all cities, famously flocking at the Vatican and Red Square. Yep. Funny how words like birds alight on the clotheslines of language. A pigeon is also a young attractive woman, though I’m not sure why you’d call a pretty girl a “pigeon”. Then again, why call girls “chicks”?Image result for pigeon flocks in flight gif

They are beautiful in flight, right? Almost majestic.

I read once that Ernest Hemingway trapped pigeons in Paris for dinner. He was hungry and poor. I have never forgiven him.

A dupe, sucker or someone easily cheated is also called a pigeon, I guess because pigeons aren’t so smart? I suppose they are easily caught and used up, both the birds and thusly marked victims. Image result for dupe or sucker pictures

Perhaps the extinct carrier pigeon was a duped victim of fowl play. Stories abound of the heroic sacrifices carrier pigeons made in war time, delivering mail, bullets, tanks, and a submarine in the Battle of Midway.Related image

The first message-bearing pigeon was loosed by Noah. The ancient Romans used pigeons for chariot races, to tell owners how their entries had placed. Genghis Khan established pigeon relay posts across Asia and much of Eastern Europe. Charlemagne made pigeon-raising the exclusive privilege of nobility. The Rothschild fortune is said to have been seriously augmented by a pigeon bearing news of the British victory at Waterloo. But it was in the Siege of Paris in 1870 that the carrier pigeon won its wings. (Please hold your applause until the end of the post. It’s hard, I know, when the grandeur of pigeon awe sweeps over one like a phantom wind fills the sails of a clipper ship. But try. Cross your legs if you must.)

My favorite pigeon has to be the stool pigeon, I think. It’s a term for criminals who act as decoys to lure other criminals into a legal dragnet. I imagine stool pigeons were once like decoy ducks that lure real ducks into target range. Stool pigeons must sit on stools in police interrogation rooms and coo, coo, coo away their accomplices. It is also suggested that stool pigeons were low life informants who sat on bar stools to gather nefarious information.

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Yes, there are pigeon associations. And you’ll never guess who is the president of the British Pigeon Racing Association. The very Queen herself, Elizabeth II.  Here she is as a young pigeonphile. Lovely, really, and don’t you dare call her a pigeon.

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Those Brits!!  Crazy, right? And you thought this was just an aimless tangent. Actually, so did I, but we are gaining traction now, Bob. Racing fowlers will immediately recognize the following grand champions from the middle of the twentieth century.  Who could forget Ginger Feathers and her epic flight of 1944? She practically won the war on P Day.Image result for marx brothers movies pigeon feathers

Now in a related but faraway galaxy comes Pidgin English, which is a form of broken English that is spoken in over two dozen lands that were once ruled by the Brits. (Note the British pigeon theme here.)

Pidgin English is a non-specific name used to refer to any of the many pidgin languages derived from English. Here’s a Nigerian example… or more.

7. Wetin dey happen? – What’s going on? (Marvin Gaye, where are you, man?) What’s happening?

11. Dem send you? – Have you been sent to torment me? (Republicans said this about Hillary.)

13. K-leg – Questionable.  Example – Your story get k-leg! Which means your story or gist sounds suspect or exaggerated. (POTUS Twitter feed)

23. Butta my bread – Answered prayers. Example – “God don butta my bread” which means God has answered my prayers (Note to gluten intolerant:  God don butta my gluten free bread. Dairy intolerant version, God don no butta my bread.)

25. I go land you slap – I will slap you! ( Again, POTUS Twitter feed)

One more jump, my friends, to gems. The pigeon blood ruby is a rare and precious stone.Image result for pigeon blood rubyJust look at that drop of crystallized blood. How valuable, you ask?  How about $30 million for this Sunshine Ruby? 36 carats strong.

Extremely rare: The 'Sunrise Ruby' sold for £19.3million at auction

But we are wandering aimlessly, having lost the narrative equivalent of the thread of Ariadne, and are doomed to be devoured by the mythical Minotaur. Yes, yes. No worries. I will simply launch my homing pigeon to find my way out of this Cretan labyrinth. Yes, even in myths pigeons can alight on another clothesline of meaning and provide rescue and comfort. When Daedalus made his famous wings to escape his prison, I like to think he used pigeon feathers for his apparatus. 

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A pigeon taught that falcon how to light a lady’s pipe, and yet not even a footnote of recognition. Shame! After the Great War, when carrier pigeons were replaced by reliable modern technology, a lot of them found work in Hollywood as stunt birds. Tragically, some unfortunates went into the adult bird film industry, where they were exploited for crowd scenes in Rome and Venice, working literally for peanuts.

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It breaks my heart to think of how far this once noble bird has fallen. However, I find comfort and promise in the adaptability of the pigeon. And so, I’ll leave you with fond memories of Bert telling his unfunny pigeon jokes to Ernie, which left Ernie nonplussed but Bert laughing like a bleating goat.   “Agh agh agh agh agh.” That’s all folks.Image result for bert pigeon laugh gif

 

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337. Holy Bird Poop!

A thousand topics flitter across my brain like bats and barn swallows at sunset. Zippity dooo daah day. That’s how it feels. One will eventually rest on a branch of my mammalian brain, causing a little bounce action I may attend to. Darn work and life get in the way, however, and off flies the batty swallow idea, never to be seen, heard or felt again. I am left with a tinge of frustration, like the early winter night an owl settled in the hickory tree at the end of our lot. I stood quietly on the upper deck, watching the branch bounce beneath his downy weight. I was breathlessly quiet, hoping to spend some time in communion with this creature when my youngest daughter screeched for me on the other side of the sliding door. Whooosh! Away Mr. Owl flew, a big fat missed opportunity. Dang it!!

Now I’m not claiming that some bird is more precious than my precious daughter. If the situation were reversed and I had an owl in my house and my daughter bouncing on a hickory branch, I’d be just as upset when he screeched and she flew. Fair is fair. What I am saying is that opportunities do knock, and sometimes no one is home. Sometimes, through no one’s fault, you just can’t respond, and something like a tragic spasm rips across your abdomen. Yeah, most of us walk around with invisible machete slashes near our navels. “Senor Zoro was here.” At some point we have all been emotionally eviscerated… and can never forget the cold  blade plunging through the rib cage.  You fill in the blank, my friend. Betrayal, grief, shock, horror, disgust, or Donald Trump.

 These things are inevitable if you live long enough. Disappointment and hurt, anger and bitterness can settle in our bones like arthritis, occasionally flaring bursts of pain into our calcified disjointed days… if we let them.

What is far more rare are the twin doves of mercy and grace. I was recently given a HUGE shipment of both from my long suffering wife. Let me just say here, I am not easy to live with. I am snippy and snooty and impatient and hemorrhoidal at times. And unlike the written word, you can’t edit out unartful snarkiness and selfish impatience. Once you ring that rusty iron bell of “me first justice”, you can’t unring it. There is no memory eraser thumb drive that sucks out the stupid, rude bloviations that come out of my mouth. I’d love to get one with a historical rewind feature, but they don’t exist. So we have the hardened crud of negative interactions dried onto the memory plate, burned on the sacred skillet of marriage. Can I get an amen? Or am I the only husband in America who frustrates the woman he loves to the point where she wants to kill him with a ball bat but pulls back due to the holidays and family feelings and the fact that she just bought me Christmas presents?  Maybe in the new year, once things are settled down, she can kill me without so many complications, while the local police are at domestic violence conventions in Florida.

You see, I am a part time (okay, full time) mockingbird. Annoying, and yet sometimes welcome. For instance…

… the title and central metaphor of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. In that novel, mockingbirds are portrayed as innocent and generous, and two of the major characters, Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie, say it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because “they don’t do one thing for us but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us”.

Well, they can still be quite annoying. Just ask a cat on a still summer day as a mockingbird swoops and squawks at it relentlessly.  I confess, I have swooped and squawked at many a cat, wife and kid around my house. It’s not right but it is true that we show our worst, our crowiest selfus

to those closest to us.

I don’t know what mockingbirds eat, but I do know what forgiveness tastes and feels like– it is the finest honey anyone ever poured out and the purest balm on an open wound.  Makes me feel like a hummingbird amid an oasis of divine nectar. Unearned joy erupts in my heart’s furious flutters– it’s a recovered onside kick with 18 seconds on the clock and victory is suddenly possible again after hope was dashed on cruel rocks. (Yes, the Packers game is on behind me; however, I am vigilantly on task against mixed metaphorical language.)

So let me go with the big message here. You can’t unring the rusty bell of justice, Blog sparrows, true. Our world is broken and sinful, and I am good at both brokenness and sin. Maybe you are too. That morbid iron bell rings out our trespasses and failures, calling us to the shackles of the past. The only antidote I know is the crystal bell of mercy that says it’s all behind us now. This bell calls us to a banquet of mercy and grace, milk and honey, love and faith. Long ago birds were seen as messengers between mortals and God, since they traversed the heavens but nested on earth.  Well, maybe they still are. Even mockingbirds.

 

 

212. flittering finches in faltering flight

It’s early spring and the various birds are showing up as the snow melts away– robins in particular herald spring’s arrival or winter’s demise. The hardy cardinals wintered over along with bold blue jays and sparrows. They flit about my back yard and chirp at first light. Feathered extroverts. They are busy building nests and claiming turf. Sometimes the people around me remind me of flitting birds. Peep, peep, coo, coo, squawk!  And I mean this in the nicest way possible.  I think they just want to make it into my world famous blog with readers in Namibia and India. Well, I at least got a hit from these distant shores. Why? Yes, I do ask myself this often. Don’t they have plagues or insurrections to tend to instead of my drivel? If I were in dire straits, or straits of any sort, I wouldn’t call me.  How would I hear myself call? And I will not leave myself voicemail. I don’t like how I sound on tape.

So weird coincidences continue as people wander in and out of my life. As I walked into the bank to deposit some checks at lunch, one of my former clients was walking out.  We smiled and laughed out loud. She was extremely pregnant the last time I’d seen her. Now she has a fourth child, a little boy. “Oh my, this is so strange. My daughter (whom I’ve worked with numerous times) just asked me to call you last night as I was tucking her in. And here we are!”  Yes, indeed. It was a nice moment. “She’s struggling with normal stuff. Girls at school, you know. Anyway I quit my job, and I just love being home. It’s so nice.”  She’s a dove, lovely and pleasant. Somehow her voice coos. If cats could be birds, they’d be doves, purring about and clucking softly.

And chickens… reminds me of Gerry from Sunday School. I helped him move on Saturday while he did the grumpy old man shuffle. He pocked and squawked about. Later, he and his bride came over for a dandy spaghetti dinner that my wife had prepared. Again he tried to noodle around glutenously and say awkward things, provoking a Freudian slip by my wife. As she was talking about the ballroom dances we have learned, she mistakenly mentioned the Horizontal Tango, as if it were a recognized international dance. I corrected her. “Honey, we do the vertical tango. The Horizontal Tango was outlawed after Sodom was destroyed.” After many guffaws and squawks, Foghorn Leghorn repeated these awkward  phrases quite loudly while sitting next to me at church the next morning. “Ah say, uh, boy, Ah say now, what about that Horizontal Tango?” Did I mention we were in church? Where’s a good chicken hawk when you need one? He needed an Old Testament smoting.

Meanwhile the pastor was doing his woodpecker nail gun bursts of intense preaching where every word is so important that it is enunciated with great torque and tension into our tightly frightened eardrums. PRRRRrrrrup, “sin”.  ppprrrrrrrrrup, “repent”. PRRRRrrrrrrup, “satan”. PRRruppp. “Jesus”. The tension built to 100 lbs. psi of torque and then entire bodies would spin out counter clockwise as the eardrum whirled back into place. I tell you, folks were falling out in the aisles repenting left and right for un-confessed sins just to make the nail gun stop. “Breathe Pastor, breathe Man!!” But as most ornithologists know, woodpeckers breathe through their ears so that they can continue pecking into trees for the insects beneath the bark. It’s a form of explication, prrrrrrup, ruppp, of the text. Makes one wonder if Noah had woodpeckers on the Ark. That could have gotten ugly.

“Noah, sir, we’ve got a hole on deck three, section delta.”

“Aw, stick a sock in it, Caleb.”

“Socks haven’t been invented yet, sir.”

“Okay, how about a snake? How big around is the hole?”

“Less than a palm but more than a finger, sir.”

“Shove a turtle into it for now and finish it with candle wax.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Lord, why do you test me with these accursed woodpeckers? I told you they would be trouble on a wooden boat! But Noooo, what does Noah know?”

Alright, maybe this is not great drama and this scene would likely be edited out of a Noah movie with Russell Crowe playing the old man. Maybe in the Monte Python version we’d get the real story of the woodpeckers who created ventilation in the ark.

Okay, back on earth in modern times… I need one more bird-to-person reference to make it to 1,000 words. I’ve written about hawks, sparrows, baby bird, penguins, ducks, swans, owls, magpies and flamencos. But I’m struggling here in the home stretch.  Perhaps I should tell the sad tale of Okey Pretty Bird here. Why not?

Okey was a cockatiel, a little parrot. Sweet natured and gentle. My daughter Grace was given Okey by a friend of mine whose kids had outgrown the bird, I think. Maybe they were on vacation. I don’t actually remember. Anyway Grace loved that bird and Okey loved her back. Okey could talk; at least it could say, “Okey pretty bird” as it walked around our house. Keep in mind that we also had finches that flew around inside our house while iguanas slithered slowly across the carpeting. Our dog Nick would chase the finches and hop up on the couch to snap at them, which is how he broke the one lamp. It was a circus but fun for kids.

 Okey pretty bird used to talk at Grace’s toes and would sort of lick and peck gently at them. It was cute but also dangerous for the bird and pedestrians in our house. Usually birds are up higher in the ranch house canopy. I think you know already how this sad story ends, but you don’t. I believe Grace was walking up the stairs with Okey in her hand when she missed a step and fell full force onto poor unfortunate “Okey, pruuuuttttyyyy buuuuuurrrddd.” Duh. Dead.
“This one is… For all the birds I’ve loved before. Who traveled in and out my door. I’m glad they came along. I dedicate this song to all the birds I loved before.” (thank you, Willie Nelson)

 Update: after vetting the Okey story with Grace, she reminded me that she had actually stepped on poor Okey Pretty Bird and felt huge guilt over this awkward accident. But what is even worse is that the neighbor’s cockatiel, Bibs, had learned to say “Okey Pretty Bird” before Okey left this world. Bibs continued for years afterward haunting Grace through open windows, “Okey Pretty Bird”.