The following is an accurate and undramatized account of events that occurred on August 17th, 2012 in North Plains, OR.
My job was simple, sit outside of childcare and make sure that everyone that is dropping off kids at was a player in the LPGA tournament that was going on at the golf course that lay on the other side of wheat fields, and that no one who isn’t a parent tries to pick up any of the children.
I was warned it would be slow and mind-numbingly boring, but oh the bountiful resources the mind provides to an avid reader and writer! My first two days went without incident. I would spend the better part of the mornings outside the elementary school doors enjoying the fresh air before the afternoon sun made it as balmy and hot as a sauna. The office chair that was my assigned post would move inside the air conditioned school, across the hall from the classroom where the childcare was provided as soon as the Oregon summer heat dial got cranked up a few too many notches.
My days were spent switching between reading Frankenstein, A Jane Austen Education, and eventually The Arabian Nights (read consecutively, not simultaneously), and writing my young adult fiction novel. This position seemed a perfect match, because other than giving my brain a rest by reading magnificent works, I had no distractions from my writing.
It was around 11AM on my third day that I was pulled momentarily from my post by the most urgent of causes. The sun was heating up, and my eyes were dedicated to finishing the chapter I was on before picking up my writing journal. The sound of local kids playing on the swings and jungle gym were not uncommon, but the pow-wow of siblings standing but 20 yards away from me was. They were whispering to each other, and occasionally looking over at me.
Considering that at this point in time I had a mohawk I was used to getting confused and curious stares from people, especially kids. It wasn’t until I saw one of the boys (Mark), that could not have been more than 9, break out of the huddle and start to walk towards me that I lifted my eyes from the book for more than a moment. His hands were cupped together, his older sister (Stephanie, 12) and younger brother (Johnny, 4) hung back, as if giving themselves an exit strategy. I prepared my authoritative voice, just in case this boy thought he was about to give me some gross “present”, as boys his age have done since the beginning of time.
Then I heard the tiniest of chirps.
“Where did you get that?” My voice scolded him, I felt bad about that.
He stopped walking, frozen just 5 feet from me, and seemed to be contemplating a retreat. “The ground.” His voice tinged with the shyness that’s natural when talking to a strange woman with a mohawk.
I stood, but at that point didn’t want to abandon my post. “You have to put it back.”
These words were all the incitement that the 4 year old Johnny needed, he ran over, his courage fueled by his hunger for justice and humanity. “He’s hurt! His neck is…and he can’t fly…and right here.” He pointed to his arm pit area.
My love of kids and animals, and the fact that I knew no kids at childcare were going to be dropped off or picked up any time soon, made it impossible to dismiss these kids as if I were The Grinch. “Let me see.” I opened up my hands to the brave boy that held the frightened little bird.
The tiny ball of grey downey feathers and a mouth that was still too big for it’s body filled the entire palm of his hand, and when gently placed into mine barely even took up half of it. It’s neck, to the untrained eye looked gangly and weak, nearly on the point of breaking under the weight of the awkward head, and the bare skin in the armpit area that the little boy was concerned about was naturally a raw pink.
“He’s not hurt.” My voice had now gone into a soothing tone, wanting to calm the bird and the kids at the same time.
“But he can’t fly!” I am convinced after a minute with Johnny that he is going to be an activist or a TV personality.
By this time the concerned 12 year old Stephanie had walked over to hear the diagnosis.
“He’s not old enough to fly. He’s just a baby.”
They all leaned in to look at the little creature who’s heart was rapidly thumping against my fingers, and who’s chirping grew more urgent. “It’s gonna be alright sweetie.” I cooed, and then looked up at the three siblings. “Can you show me where you found it?”
All three of them stood at attention. Johnny shouted, “This way!” and ran off in the direction of the playground.
The older sister spoke for the first time. “By the tree.”
“Did the nest fall?”
“It exploded!” The battle cry burst out of Johnny’s lips as he literally ran circles around us.
I looked at the older kids with a raised eyebrow.
“It fell apart when it hit the ground.” Mark explained.
“And the mommy and sister just left it!” Johnny was appalled at such neglect.
“The mom circled above us, but then flew away.” Stephanie also wondered at the abandonment of the baby.
“You guys have to realize how much bigger we are than the birds, we are giants to them, the momma was circling to try and scare you away from her baby.”
All the kids nodded their heads in understanding.
“We found it right here.” Stephanie pointed under the shade of a great western hemlock.
The nest was made from straw, and considering that the lowest branch was at least 10 feet up, it did indeed look like a bomb had hit it. The kids then started to paint the picture of the fateful discovery of the baby bird.
“I said, ‘What’s that?'” Stephanie pointed with great enthusiasm in the reenactment.
“And I said, ‘Dog Poop!'” Mark smiled as any 9 year old would when saying the word “poop”.
“But then it moved!” Stephanie let out a gasp as the plot thickened.
“And I said, ‘Wait! Dog poop doesn’t move!'” Johnny proclaimed it as if he had just discovered Atlantis.
I tried to hid my smile as these kids delivered this as the grandest epic ever told since the Aeneid. Leaning down I let the baby smell the largest clump of nest on the ground. The heartbeat slowed, and the little bird tried to jump over my fingers. I plopped the baby on the mound of hay and stood up.
“Alright, now we to leave it alone.”
“But, it’s mommy left it!” Johnny may have a future as an environmental lawyer as well.
“Yeah, we found it over there.” Mark pointed about a foot away from the clump the bird was on as if it were the other side of the world.
The kids circled around the chirping bird, wanting to stand guard until the mom returned.
“The momma bird won’t come back until we’re gone. The baby’s calling out for her, but we’re too big and too scary for her to come help her baby. Can’t you hear the mom calling back from that tree over there?”
The older sister shook her head and put on her big girl voice. “Okay guys, let’s go.”
Both brothers responded to her order without hesitating, a reaction only an older sibling can get. As I walked back towards my post Johnny was jumping around retelling the heroic events that just happened as if I had not taken a part in them. The older kids were asking about my job, and telling me about their teachers and classes that they had when they went to the school we were at.
“Stephanie, Mark, John-John!” Their mom’s voice rang out as she walked to her car.
“Thank you, bye!” Stephanie and Mark shouted as they ran to the parking lot.
Johnny slowly walked backwards as he rambled on and on, as most toddlers are so talented at doing. When he finally responded to his mother he turned and shouted, “WE SAVED A BIRD!” His little fists punched the air, and his cry had the same intensity and bravado as Don Quixote before he fought the wind mills.
I laughed as they drove off, and waved at the little hands that stuck out the car windows. As my butt settled into it’s accustomed position in the colorful office chair I loved the idea that I would be in the wildly exaggerated retellings of the day those kids saved an entire species of birds from the alien bombs that rained down on that hot summer day.