Photo credit: Benjamin M Campell. Of course.
There is a certain tone in Ben’s voice when he enters the house to report a bird situation. There’s a sense of alarm I immediately pick up on.
Usually, he’s reporting a sick or dead chicken. This day, he was a not.
Fly paper hangs in strips from the ceiling of our chicken coop during the warmer months. If you’re leaning over to fill the feeder and you stand up without looking, your hair sticks to it and you end up with dead flies and glue in your hair.
It never occurred to me that a wild bird might get caught by it, rather than a fly.
“Sue?” Ben calls from the doorway.
Nora is off in another room getting her pajamas on. “There’s a little bird stuck to the fly paper in the coop. I don’t know if it’s dead. It might not be.”
I grab the kitchen shears and some rubber gloves on my way out the door.
Walking through the back yard, I mentally preparing myself for a dead — or nearly dead — bird.
When I open the door, I see a very small bird, one wing completely spread and stuck to the fly paper, completely inert.
I reach up to cut the paper down and a wild eye shoots open, the tiny body jerking to life. Small and grayish brown with a long curved beak, this bird is very much alive.
I cut the strip down, carry the bird outside and sit on the steps of the coop.
I hold the bird, its body maybe a third the size of my palm, as firmly as I reasonably can while I trim away the paper, my gloves sticking to themselves as I handle the glue. The bird wants badly to get away from me, shrieking at each effort I make to free it.
Once most of the paper is trimmed away, I carry it back toward the house, cupped in both of my hands. As I remove my right to reach for the gate latch, the bird jumps out of my left hand and scurries under a large hosta plant, despite having one leg completely glued to its wing. I am impressed.
I walk to the hosta and crouch down to look for the bird. I can’t see or hear a thing. For a moment I think he has scurried further than I imagined. I rustle the leaves lowest to the ground and he darts from one side of the plant to the other. After a minute more, I catch him.
I walk to the side door of the house and call to Ben to bring me a large empty bowl, a bottle of olive oil, a bowl of warm soapy water and a pair of tweezers.
There is a tacit agreement that Ben will keep Nora occupied in the house and not tell her what is going on. She lost a chicken a few weeks earlier and sobbed for two days. She’s had enough life lessons for now.
Some chicken keepers try to dip an egg bound hen in olive as a way to lubricate the reproductive tract. This is pure folly, as you’ll never get the oil up into the reproductive tract where it would do any good and simply end up with a hen covered in oil. The oil eventually turns rancid and you have a horrible mess.
However, the only way I know of to make something un-sticky is to use an oil based solvent. If I don’t get the glue and paper off, the bird will not survive. I’ll have to coat it in oil, then pretend I’m rescuing a bird from the BP spill and clean him up. It probably won’t work, but it’s that or end things quickly with a brick.
The bird weighs nothing at all. It’s little heart beats so fast, and I can feel every tiny thump.
I put a few drops of oil on the sticky paper and gently rub it in. This neutralizes the stickiness and I easily remove the paper with a tweezers.
All the while I’m working I can barely believe I am holding a tiny wild bird.
It doesn’t feel quite real or quite right. It’s all slightly magical.
I put the bird in the warm soapy water and call to Ben for some paper towels.
The bird is more distressed than ever now that it’s wet. I know I have to get it dry as soon as possible. But I soon see there is still plenty of oil still on it.
I try one more dip in the water and continue drying and holding him close to stay warm.
Ben prepares a cardboard box. He puts some leaves and sticks in the bottom and a small shallow dish of bird seed and some water.
We bring the box and the bird to the basement and I place the bird inside. It crouches on top of the paper towels it’s been wrapped in.
I go upstairs, shower, and then lay in bed looking through the Book of Western Birds, trying to figure out the name of the species I’ve been tending to for the last hour. None of the colorful drawings look much like the creature I’ve been holding. Probably a type of wren, I finally decide.
I tell Ben that perhaps we should get out the warming lamp we used when the hens were chicks set it up for the bird. I’m worried he’ll get too cold after being wet.
Ben leaves to do the set up is gone a long time.
He comes back while I’m reading Nora a bedtime story and I lip read that the bird is dead.
After Nora falls asleep, he tells me that he’s already dug a hole in the backyard.
I walk downstairs take stiff lifeless bird from the box and carry it back outside. The hole is a few feet from where we buried Henny Penny. It’s about a foot and a half deep.
I gently place the bird at the bottom then pick a few flowers and drop them in the hole. The same as Henny Penny. Ben will fill the hole with dirt tomorrow.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper and walk away.
Nora wasn’t crying about Hoover. Her face showed worry, she would talk about it. She knew there was a chance he could die. But she wouldn’t cry. This went on for weeks.
The day we found out our cancer surviving dog ate a sock and would die without surgery, you could tell she was gravely concerned, but she trooped across the street to play Candyland at the neighbor’s while we went to talk options and she did not cry.
It’s not like she hasn’t seen us crying over this, we’ve talked about our sadness and explained our tears. It was like she was reserving judgement on how upset she needed to be, or maybe she felt the need to be strong for us.
That evening after surgery to remove the sock, when things started to look better for H-man, she said matter of factly, “I thought he was going to die today.”
“Me, too,” I said.
“Me, too,” Ben said.
Hoover has made a great recovery since then. Once he came home and started to seem like his old self, we got a report from school that Nora had a good cry during aftercare about Hoover. I was so relieved.
And it made perfect sense. She was doing exactly what I do. I hang on as long as I can, asking questions, analyzing the situation, worrying, but holding on. Then, when I know enough to know I’ll make it through, I throw myself in Ben’s arms and cry it all out.
We’re not completely out of the woods yet. There is still processing to be done. Naturally, jokes are one way to do that. Gemela, our friend and Nora’s aftercare provider, relayed the following doozy Nora told earlier this week:
Nora: Here’s a sad joke. Knock, knock.
Gemela: Who’s there?
Nora: Three legged-dog.
Gemela: Three legged-dog who?
Nora: My dog has cancer.
Not exactly a knee slapper. More like a gut punch. But it’s all part of the process.
Take heart, it’s not all bad. Well, the first part is pretty bad, but it’s turning out alright. And there’s a a happy announcement at the end…Um, I’ll get out of my own way now…
First were we at the beach. The whole family got some much needed relaxation to recover from our recent canine trauma. Hoover ran on three legs at the beach, Ben and I drank gin and tonics and we all played an endless game of monopoly.
We got back to Portland by midweek and it was a whirlwind of putting the house back together after a few weeks of neglect.
And then, Friday morning Hoover began vomiting. By Friday night (the 24th), he had taken a turn for the worse. He was panting and shaking. I took him in to the emergency hospital, (aka his second home). After a blood test and and x-ray, it was determined that Hoover had eaten something and it was stuck in his upper intestines. “No sweat,” I thought. Hoover has eaten pounds and pounds of socks, underwear, bed sheets and steel wool in his life, I was sure he could pass whatever this was. It was nothing compared to cancer.
Except is was. He spent the night in the hospital, vomiting fluid every time he stood up. In the morning, they performed an ultrasound and confirmed he had a complete obstruction. Without surgery, his small intestine would perforate and he would die.
Our first thought was that there was no way we were going to put him through two surgeries in less than a month. Ben and I sobbed and sobbed at the thought of putting him down, but it seemed the time had come.
We drove to the hospital to talk options with the Vet. And the picture she painted was somewhat brighter. The surgery to remove an obstruction is comparable to a spaying. Recovery is pretty straightforward. Of course, Hoover’s case was a bit riskier due to his recent circumstances, but the Vet felt that he had a great chance to recover and enjoy whatever time he had left. Ben and I didn’t even need time to discuss it privately. We agreed to surgery on the spot.
And it seems our faith in H-man’s constitution has paid off. His first night was pretty rough and he had to spend an extra day in the hospital, but since he came home a week ago, he’s had a tremendous appetite and seems much like his old self, except for the cone of shame he wears to prevent him from doing himself further harm. He obviously has no sense of self preservation.
Our biggest problem now is getting him to understand the concept of “return on investment.” The little bastard better live another eight years after this.
And now for the announcement. All the while Hoover’s been in and out of surgery, I’ve been working bit by bit to bring you something new. My bloggy wife, Kristin Glasbergen, and I have joined forces to create a new website. Today, we announce the launch of Homemade Frontier.
Homemade Frontier is a place to learn, support and share your love of all things handmade and homegrown. We’ll have tutorials, recipes, patterns, inspiration, think pieces, videos — you name it.
Kristin and I believe in a better future – made by all of us — not purchased from a big box store. We’re going forward using by the best of what came before. We’re taking our time about things and make something meaningful.
And there will be Modge Podge.
And, in case you were wondering, Mommy’s Pen is not going away.
Thanks so much for reading and for your support. It means a lot to me.
Every year for Valentine’s Day, Ben makes me a heart.
I have hearts of brass, stone, wood, lead, steel and leather. This year, he really out did himself.
I am so glad I’m not married to a normal man.