One afternoon in late June, I was pushing the mower home from the Finleys’. I had passed the woods, passed the field where they were building the new tract houses, when I saw something in the middle of the road. From a distance, it was just a small gray ball of fluff. Then I could see its beak and short tail. For a while I watched it. No cars came by, and no other birds came to help it. I walked closer, thinking I’d scare it off the road where it would be safer. But it didn’t move, didn’t even flinch, so I squatted down right in front of it.
And that’s when it reached toward me, stretching its neck like a rubber tube and opening its beak like a hinge. It made a sound that I’ll never forget. It went TTCHAAAAAAACK!!! Just once. Like a rusty gate. Such a big sound for such a small thing.
I picked up the bird in both hands, cupping it carefully to my chest. I could feel it breathing fast. But if it was scared, it didn’t try to go anywhere. It wriggled down into my palms. Its feet felt dry and scratchy. I could see pink flesh through its furry wings. Around its head was a cloud of frizzy feathers, fine as dandelion seeds. It had a sad, scrunched-up old man’s face, with a wrinkled neck, thin yellow lips, and a beak that was arrow-shaped. Its black eye blinked. It wasn’t particularly beautiful or cuddly, but holding it made me shiver inside. It seemed like so much to carry, and at the same time so little and so light.