Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ah Well

As we approach the equinox, the time when Persephone or Her Great Grandmother, Inanna, descends to the Underworld, we take time to look around and smell the air. Those leaves dropping onto dry grasses and melting into soil are gasping out their last breath of fresh air, scented with their wetness and decay. That sweet invigorating feel as you limp up to the hen houses is a way of wrapping you up in the Great Circle. It reminds you like a slap in the face that things are moving along, with you and regardless of your intent. My foot slips on a brown bit of an apple and my hip reminds me I forgot my cane. The birds are getting the message, their fights are brief and closer to the seed. Before, in mid summer, they would chase each other up and down the slope, into and out of the chestnut and the big apple. Now they fight while trying to hang on to the feeder and stuffing their beaks between squawks like Harpo at a high society bash.

Most feeders emulate Nature or natural settings. Piles of seeds from grass heads landing in a hollow make sense, as does a stash of seed in a hole in a tree, like the vertical tube-type ones hanging from a shepherd's crook. But the new suet feeder is different. It is a little roof with a wire screen across the underside and suet inside the little attic. Birds clutch the screen upside down and eat the suet from underneath. But under what circumstances would a little bird be hanging upside down eating a pile of fat? Maybe in the distant past when they were velociraptors they would attach to the bellies of huge saurapods, eating the hanging fat. That's a disturbing thought when you look at big flocks of little bird fighting over seeds and suet. Good thing they developed those beaks instead of those big mouths full of serrated blades. Woof, can you imagine looking up an old elm and seeing about 75 of these guys with mouths agape like a tiny white shark? Then, with a whoosh they mistake you for a steak and you run like hell for the potting shed, but your hip feels on fire and you can't fight them off because you forgot to bring your cane. You die there under the young maple, your blood staining the hostas and English ivy.

That's just such a morbid, yet natural thought stream. Animals do eat other animals through some process or another, especially big omnivores. If cows were the size of houses I bet somebody would be running around underneath one, sampling the flank steaks. But the last gasp of a giant cow, the brief yet sturdy fart that covers the earth in silent but deadly fog, drifts away and disperses, leaving behind dinner for eighty. Aas the earth heats up, the plants get bigger and last longer into the winter season. The big plants invite big plant eaters which invite big omnis and carnies. Last time it was elephants and giraffes, this time, with us meddling around with the DNA, maybe chickens with big breasts. Our grandchildren may go out hunting in teams to bring down the Great Rhode Island Red. Some may not come home, some may come home wounded. But the ones who finally bring her down and get to fry up the gizzards themselves, they are the proud ones, new adults in a primitive time where those without cable no nothing of the outside world. Those with cable know what is considered appropriate by the people who own the cable, and the people.

One time, a long time ago, I was in the Phoenix zoo, walking around to the pens and looking at the various exotic critters. Dad had been one of the surveyors who laid the zoo out, so I felt some emotion of ownership looking around. I stopped at a big corral with emus and ostriches, turkeys and peacocks. Dad had owned some peacocks before, they shrieked at the rising sun. Really aggressive and mean birds, actually. About this time an emu came up, looking at me intently. I looked back. It seemed to annoy him. Or her. Then, abruptly, it pecked at my right eye and nailed my glasses. I jumped back but it leaned into the next one, aimed at my left eye. Bang! On the glasses. I backed away and walked down where the peacocks were hanging around under a sage bush. They shrieked at me.

Eventually I was thrown out for trying to fish coins out of a wishing well with a stick and some gum. I was mostly trying to see if you could do such a thing. There were many movies and cartoons where somebody did it. I couldn't make the coins stick to the wet gum, and it tried to drop off several times. See, I had been snotted at by an anteater, had my lunch stolen by a baby elephant and a giraffe and I figured the place owed me something. I was cast out of the garden and a gaggle of angry grey geese were posted at the gate to keep me out. The last time I was there the geese were gone.

My garden has an open door policy, except for woodchucks. And maybe foxes. Foxes and raccoons and possums and white tail deer. All the birds are welcome, and snakes. Actually geese are not so welcome. In the fruit trees, under the apples, yeah sure, but not in the garden. they eat all the beans in no time and probably talk all the time they did it. I can imagine one of them suddenly gasping and clutching at her throat, a string bean caught in sideways. She's flapping her wings and making snorking sounds but none of the other geese notice, they're too busy honking and eating. I have to do a Heimlich maneuver on the poor critter. The bean has to be gently turned by massaging her neck and then suddenly you catch her under the wishbone and give a quick squeeze in. She honks loudly and the bean pops out. The goose stands on shaky feet, breathing in long ragged breaths. Then she turns her long grey neck, gazes at me with those black beady eyes and tries to peck out my right eye. I slap her silly, which is easy with a goose, and she joins her flock, eating and gaggling. Then I'm back here, now, and there are no geese in my garden. I breathe a sigh of relief. No geese, only chickens and they are easy to distract. If you catch one staring at your eye, just look suddenly to one side. Works every time.

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