Wednesday, March 6, 2013


English: Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta...
English: Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta), commonly known as the "Scissor Grinder" due to the unique rasping call the bird makes whilst hovering. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know, it’s funny how we use animals often to describe human behavior without thinking about whether or not they’re appropriate or active. For instance, when we say someone’s as ‘silly as a goose,’ have there ever been any studies to demonstrate the intelligence, or lack thereof, of geese? I mean, geese demonstrate behavior, particularly in their mating habits, that we humans could well emulate. Did you know that geese mate for life? I once saw a gander perched beside the mangled corpse of its mate that had been struck by a car near the suburban subway station I commuted to work from; sitting there for days until the maintenance people finally carted the dead bird away. I’ve often wondered if that grief stricken bird didn’t follow the truck to wherever they take the remains of road kill, and sat nearby until it too finally died from starvation.

Having said that, though, there is one characterization that I’ve had occasion to witness in action that is dead accurate in its description. The term ‘birdbrain’ as applied to wildly erratic behavior.

One day, sitting in my garage, where I do most of my painting and sketching because I like to smoke my pipe when I’m engaged in such activity, and my wife doesn’t allow me to smoke inside the house, I observed a small bird engaging in what could only be called ‘bird brained’ behavior.

Now, in order for you to understand all that transpired, I have to set the stage. When I’m working in the garage, I keep the door open about two feet to allow for the smoke from my pipe to be whisked to the outside. That’s to appease my wife who also doesn’t like it if I stand too near her car when I smoke, for fear I’ll leave tobacco odor on her precious conveyance. I tend to leave the door that way throughout the day, and at some point, a small bird must have come in under the door and flown up to the upper level of storage shelves where I keep old boxes of documents, computer parts, and other items. I’d been away from the garage for a few hours, working in my upstairs office on my latest manuscript, and when I hit a patch where I needed to step away from the keyboard to let the narrative brew in my mind for a while, decided to go back to the garage and work on the cover I was doing for another book that I was readying for publication.

My entrance from the kitchen must have startled the roosting bird, for it flew down from the shelf, to about the top of the garage door, and began dashing itself against the glass windows in an effort to get away. Not wanting to see the poor thing hurt itself, I tried shooing it down toward the two-foot gap at the bottom of the door, but, to no avail. That dumb bird had its eyes on those clear squares of glass as avenues of escape, and was not to be persuaded that its inability to pass through them was more than some temporary impediment. This went on for over an hour. I even tried opening the door all the way, but that only frightened it back to the top shelf.

Now and then, it would fly back down, but never lower than about a foot from the bottom of the door, which was now high enough to leave a more than six foot avenue of escape. A large opening that, for some reason, the bird failed to see as the way to go. It just continued to fly down, brush against the door, go back up to the windows – which were now parallel with the ceiling – against which it would bang futilely, and then back to the shelf.

My plans to finish my painting were put on hold as I vainly tried to figure a way to get that damned bird to fly down toward the floor and out of my garage. It didn’t help that in its panic, it had dotted my wife’s black Mercedes with several gray blotches in its flights over it.

That, friends, is a pure definition of bird brain. It’s also an example of Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

Of course, the story does have a happy ending. I decided to leave the garage to the bird – with the door left open – and went back inside to fix lunch. When I went back outside later in the afternoon, the bird had gone. I assume it finally figured out that that large space beneath the door against which it had been battering itself might be softer and finally flown away. My garage was bird free.

I got the painting finished, but not that day. It took me an hour to remove all those gray blotches from my wife’s car. Fortunately, she was out shopping that day in her other car. Her baby was all shiny when she came home, and she never knew what had transpired. I’m no bird brain. I have no intention of ever telling her.

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