We have great towers of bright green bamboo in the back of our yard, which is at the same time wonderful and horrible. Horrible because new bamboo shoots creep out of the ground everywhere in a twenty-five yard radius whenever the hell they feel like it, and in the spring grow about a foot every day… which means when we’re away for the weekend we occasionally come home to eager young shoots that have toppled over our lawn furniture or pushed their way through my pile of firewood. But wonderful because the tall, older forest sways in even the most gentle of breezes, tapping against each other like wooden wind chimes.
There are birds too, thousands of them it seems, that hide in the dense leaves toward the top, and only let you know they’re there when they all talk to each other early in the morning. This fall there have been mottled grey babies with orange feet that skitter about in the dry bamboo leaves that make a tight mat on the ground beneath the poles. The babies blend in well with the dried leaves though, and they’re pretty hard to see unless they make noise. The dogs, however, seem to be able to find them pretty easily.
So far the only ones that I’ve seen have just begun to fly, and when they’re startled they can escape to higher perches pretty quickly. But we have two hunters in the house, each with their own equally effective strategy. I’ve tried to discourage them from the hunt, of course, but it’s a primal thing, and although they’re somewhat well trained I can’t get this out of their systems.
Stella runs. She bolts when she hears them, makes turns on a dime, and leaps through impossibly small gaps in the bamboo. She’s like a little beige blur, snapping and effortlessly leaping into the air when the birds try to escape. For all her athleticism, she has a pretty low body count so far, which I’m happy about, because when she gets them she locks down with her jaw, and brings the mangled carcasses to me almost bursting with pride. Steve, on the other hand, will gallop toward the bamboo, but slows to a crawl when he gets close – lowering his body toward the ground and stalking them like a cat - head down, shoulder and hip muscles undulating with each step, and he pounces. A hundred and seventy pound pounce, mind you, which is nothing to sneeze at. It’s puma-esque… and certainly something I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of.
A week ago, I fell asleep on the couch. Usually, I’ll make it up to bed at one point or another, but I was beat, and I crashed. The worst part about sleeping downstairs is the dogs decide what time I wake up – and at five-thirty, Steve was up and pawing at my arm to let him outside. So even though I was wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts and it was raining, I took them outside. Almost immediately, I knew it was a mistake. The dogs sprinted to the bamboo, and the baby birds scattered in all directions. It was just light enough to see them awkwardly flying around the yard, with flashes of white teeth and long strands of Steve’s drool in tow. I tried my best to stop them, yelling at them and trying to catch them, getting wetter by the minute from the rain and squishing around the mud in my bare feet. For a brief shining moment I thought I had Steve – I grabbed his collar when he chased a bird right by me – but I realized a moment too late that grabbing a dog who is the size of a small cow and running at full speed isn’t the best idea. One moment I had his collar in my hand, and the next I was sailing through the air thinking ‘god, I’m an idiot’. Up until this point I was still sort of half asleep. When I landed face first on my wet lawn, in my underwear, I was wide awake. More wide awake than I can remember ever being, as a matter of fact. I got up, cursing. Making up new and exciting curses. Curses never heard before, curses so vile they could strip paint off of furniture. Curses that somehow seemed to bridge the inter species communication gap, because the dogs were transfixed.
When I finally got them inside, Stella went back to sleep as if nothing had happened, and Steve skulked away into his cage in shame. I spent about five minutes scraping the mud off myself in the kitchen, and since there was no way in hell I was going back to sleep, I made some breakfast. When I sat back down on the couch, Steve was still in his cage, eyeballing me in the darkness. I turned the TV on, and in the background I heard... a chirp. And then another one. I turned the light on, and sitting next to Steve on his dog bed was a little grey bird, completely covered in saliva, with the most surprised expression a bird could possibly muster. Steve, it seems, had the baby bird in his mouth the entire time, swishing it back and forth like an Altoid... and when he got bored, he let it go.
So by then it was almost six in the morning, and I was outside in the rain again, in my underwear, cleaning spit off of a bird...