JUNE (Tamale)
Yellow Ribbon's problem in JuneOn the morning of June 7th a commotion shatters the quietness atop the marble column. Once again Cat Chaser perches on the next column making the call that says, "If you want to eat, then leave your nest. Jump! Jump! Jump!

Chirup chireep chireep, chrup chireep...

One nestling, a male, is larger, more alert, and more adventurous than the others. Lately he's spent more time than the others flapping his wings while holding onto the nest's edge with his feet, so now he's the strongest "flier." This morning he's the first to leap into the great space below the nest.

Down, down, down the hungry bird flutters, his wings a frenzied blur, his promise as a good flier even now evident. Over the concrete floor he makes a complete circle, nearly crashing into the base of his home column before veering into the lawn. Touching down, his face slams into the grass and he somersaults onto his back.

On the ground the new fledgling looks around astonished. Earlier his view from atop the column showed a world of cold, gray concrete, and dizzying emptiness below. Now this new world is just the opposite, with the sea of blue emptiness above, and the part below firm and good-natured, for grass- blades tickle one's eyelids and the soft skin beneath one's wings...

The fledgling smells the grass and feels its moist coolness. This new world is soft and green, so unlike the scratchy, flaky, yellow nest... And when you look into the open sky... What a feeling... What a feeling...

And now it simply ends.

Neither Yellow Ribbon nor Cat Chaser had known that a certain treacherous yellowness had been attracted by Cat Chaser's chirps atop the column that morning. They had not known that the tabby cat called Tamale had took up position beneath the yew bush beside the portico's steps. Like a yellow statue, for a long time he's been staying there, his eyes searching upward to where the chirping came from. There he had waited and waited and waited...

Tamale had not been hungry. However, when the tiny ball of feathers had made its clumsy landing, all of his instincts had told him to attack and kill...

It's just that a cat such as he from time to time needs to hunt. He needs to practice using his natural killing skills. Yes, how easy it is and what a pleasure it gives to bite a creature behind the neck and to feel it instantly going limp. Yet, what a shame that it all passes so quickly. Too bad there isn't more time in it...

Tamale skulks across the lawn carrying the dead fledgling in his mouth. Cat Chaser above him chirps loudly and makes dive-bomb attacks. Once Tamale crosses the street, Cat Chaser returns to his nest. Lying in the grass of Mrs. Jones' lawn, Tamale idly paws at the House Sparrow corpse, then with satisfaction gnaws upon the fledgling's neck and wings and legs.

Back in the nest the young birds sense that something is wrong. However, that doesn't lessen their hunger or their profound wish to be fed. Likewise, Yellow Ribbon knows that a problem has arisen but neither can she think of anything but the need to keep coaxing the young from their nest.

Cat Chaser wipes his beak at the edge of his calling-column and nervously preens his feathers, working out his anxieties. Is it safe now for the nestlings to fly onto the ground? They need food. But, what if the cat returns? Listen to the nestlings peeping. But someplace right now the cat still sits with is claws and his fangs so terribly sharp...

Gradually the fledglings' hungry peeps have their effect on Cat Chaser. His anxieties give way to his instinct to coax the hungry nestlings onto the ground.

After much chirping, again one bird does finally leap and as the ball of fluff descends a terrible yellowness once more bounds across the street and the lawn, heading straight to where the fledgling lands.

This time Tamale doesn't kill quickly. He plays with the creature, even as Cat Chaser swoops at him from above. Quer quer quer, Cat Chaser screams. Then Tamale picks up the peeping fledgling and carries it to Mrs. Jones' lawn, and lays it neatly in the grass next to the corpse of the other fledgling.

Now Tamale will take his time and sharpen his reflexes. He will remind himself fully how it feels to have a living bird beneath one's paws... He will see again how quickly a bird can be retrieved if somehow it escapes, and how a single claw can pierce a covering of feathers...

Atop the concrete column Yellow Ribbon, Cat Chaser, and the three remaining nestlings awkwardly wait for the situation somehow to improve. The nestlings are now even hungrier; Yellow Ribbon is upset, but she knows this is the time her brood must leave the nest. Cat Chaser wipes his bill on the edge of the column and preens his feathers. He looks over the side of the column's top and listens to the fledglings begging for food. And inside him there grows an ache as big as a House Sparrow can know.

Somehow during such times -- even for a House Sparrow -- time passes. In the afternoon, while a moist heat hangs over town, the sun is high, trees are as green as they can be, with dark shadows pooling beneath their boughs... the last three nestlings make it safely onto the ground, for Tamale the cat is napping.

To fledge three nestlings out of five original House Sparrow eggs -- that's about average...

*****

Grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders, crickets, click beetles, aphids, leaf beetles... At the end of three weeks, how many of each have Yellow Ribbon and Cat Chaser plopped into the mouths of the three fledglings? Once again it's the old problem of how do you get youngsters to start taking care of themselves instead of eternally begging, begging, begging... ?

One day at noon when the heat has slowed the fledglings down a little, Cat Chaser tries to sneak a little peace inside the big Sycamore, and Yellow Ribbon flies to a spot she's noticed earlier, with the same thought. It's a beneath a house trailer being used as a portable classroom beside the schoolhouse.

Beneath the trailer Yellow Ribbon finds plenty of dust -- dust so fine and deep that our bird's legs sink into it up to their feather line. The dust feels good because it's cool and dry on a hot and humid day.

Yellow Ribbon pokes her bill into the dust and shakes her head, stirring up a cloud of dust that settles on her head and back. How good this feels! She rests her breast upon the dust, and flutters her wings as if she were a duck splashing water at the edge of a pond.

Yellow Ribbon fluffs out her feathers and lets the friendly dust insinuate itself all the way to her feathers' bases. She fans her tail and pushes her head forward along the ground, first with one side of her face slide through the dust, then the other. Now she indulges in an orgy of head-scratching and feather-preening, and flutters her wings until a nest-like hollow forms in the dust beneath her. Settling into this depression she feels so relaxed, so peaceful...

Aaa-aaa-aaa! Aaa-aaa-aaa!

Begging for food, a fledgling as big as Yellow Ribbon herself comes gangling across the dust gaping mouth pleading for food. How has this aggravating creature found her here? With one last violent shake, sending dust flying everywhere, Yellow Ribbon explodes from beneath the temporary classroom.

When the dust settles only a disgusted fledgling is left. Gritty dust from Yellow Ribbon's rude departure fills the fledgling's mouth. The fledgling tries to shake off the filth, but this only stirs up more dust. The fledgling chokes and gags and feels very rejected and betrayed.

Sullenly it hops to the edge of the dust pile and flies toward West End Avenue. Never again will it beg for food. As of this moment, it has left home.

Continue to JULY