Friday, July 8, 2016

It's Spring -- Bless the Baby Birds!

I couldn't resist sharing a childhood experience with you. The story probably accounts for why I love birds and delight in painting them.

 Robin Hood
He was pink, blind and featherless when I found him lying in the bright spring grass. His lifeless three-inch body brought back a rush of memory and I was eight years old again, looking down on another fragile baby bird.

"Tufted Titmouse" drawing

He had fallen so far from the nest that I convinced myself his mother would never miss him. Carefully, and with a modicum of shame, I scooped the tiny fledgling into my cupped hands. I would nurse him back to health and become his protector. In turn, he would be my friend, my pet. He could perch on my finger and I would teach him how to do tricks. He could sing for his supper. Surely mother would let me keep him.

"Courtship" pencil drawing
She shook her head when she saw him; a bad omen. But when she gave me an empty matchbox, I grew hopeful. We stuffed the matchbox with tissue and laid the bird gently on the soft white sheets. His head wobbled back and forth as his tiny body struggled to get up. The dark swollen eyes were closed, but the hungry beak gaped wide in a perpetual state of readiness.

My mother went for the “crumb jar;” the kind you fill up with leftover toast or stale bread until there are enough pieces for croutons or crumbs on a casserole.

We moistened a small chunk of bread in warm milk; and while mother left to prepare dinner, I dropped soggy snippets of bread into the bird’s open mouth. The feeding lasted until the tantalizing smells from the kitchen and the clatter of dishes distracted me.

"Berry Picking Time" 16 x 20 acrylic on panel
It was nearly bedtime before I remembered. I skipped to the back porch, half expecting birdsong to greet me. Instead, I slammed into a cold wall of silence. I held my breath and peered into the matchbox. The bird’s too-large head lay angled against the white tissue, his pale colored beak hung open. The bread I had pushed down his throat earlier was now stuck like a gummy wad of dough. I yelled for mother.

"Hut Two Three Four" drawing
She came quickly with tweezers in hand. “He’s too weak to swallow,” she said, making one final effort to remove the dough from the tiny gullet. “He’s not breathing,” she muttered to herself. And then seeing my tears, she added, “It’s not your fault. He’s too young, that’s all. His eyes aren’t open. He has no feathers.” In spite of her words, I cried. Sad lesson learned -- end of story, or was it?

Returning to the present and my adult moorings, I studied the baby bird at my feet. If I left him here, a neighbor’s cat or a hungry hawk would surely destroy him or a child’s bicycle could crush him unawares. Impulsively, I scooped him into my hands. I had to give him a second chance. Who knows? This time I might succeed; and, perhaps, redeem my childhood guilt in the bargain.
"Star Billing" mixed media on 14 x 18canvas