Family Culture

by Terry Lerma 2 months ago in humanity

Seeing the value of those that fly

Family Culture

I was fortunate. I grew up in a household with two parents with very different cultures but the same values. Both valued nature and respected all life forms. Dad's "bird hunting" consisted of carrying a rifle through the woods, enjoying watching the dog flush out the game birds, but never actually bringing one home. Back at home, mom as hand-feeding the squirrels that climbed the screen door, looking for peanuts. We all brought home birds that fell from their nests, roadkill that needed burial and so forth. But mom and I shared a special love of watching the birds that came to the feeder. And every summer, the week or two dad lived for would come and we'd pack up and head to the woods he had grown up in where there was an amazing variety of things that fly. As time went on, mom had to remain in a wheelchair on oxygen. She taught herself needle work. I still have many of the pictures she created. Pictures of delicate butterflies and regal hawks and eagles. They hang in the old cabin and in my home.

Fast forward 10 years. I'm working at a county jail and get a call to come home - there is a bat in the house and my husband, known to be something of a "scary guy" - is hysterical. The sergeant laughed but let me go. At home, there was a battle raging as my husband had the kids hiding in their rooms while he tried to "kill it". He was somewhat annoyed when I was able to get it into a net and let it go outside. This was good insight into why he also became hysterical when, while at the cabin in "dad's woods", just after dark, a little bird got confused and trapped on the porch. I honestly don't know which of them was more frightened, him at 6' or the bird at less than 6", but I do know they simply escalated each other until I was finally able to push him back inside and gently push the bird out. I could not for the life of my understand the hysteria, but we had grown up in very different cultures.

Fast-forward about 20 years. I'm working in an urban area where my love of wild things is not always understood and sometimes was reason for friction. As I parked one morning in front of the office in the dead of winter, I passed a second parking meter on which a little bird was sitting. Several steps later, I realized it hadn't moved. I went back, talking to it and looking, I'm sure, to all the world as someone not quite right. It allowed me to pick it up. I took it inside and found a box. I put a spare sweater and the bird in the box and placed it near the radiator. I found a small dish and added water. After a short while, it began peeping. As I went to take it out of the box, it flew to the ceiling. I looked at the clock. The boss would soon be in and it would not be wise to have a "wild animal" there with a boss who was not overly-fond of domesticated animals. I imagine those in nearby offices, if they were looking out a window at 7:30 am, got quite a chuckle as I climbed from desk to window sill to chair, around and around trying to catch her to bring her back outside. And still she was singing. Finally, she settled down and quieted in the box. Until I went to carry it. So, I picked her up and carried her down and out. It was several minutes before she'd leave my hands and fly off into the church yard across the street. I check the internet and discovered she was an orchard oriel, explaining why she had headed for the church - there were a number of crab apple trees there I'd not noticed before. I was just glad she was safely on her way and I was in the clear. I wasn't always so lucky. I transferred to a different department in a much bigger and decidedly less friendly building. As I stood with others from the building in the "smoking area" one day, a sparrow landed nearby, looking for a handout. I reached into my bag for a piece of my sandwich, but as I tossed a few crumbs, a woman from another department started screaming at me about diseases and attacks from birds. Alfred Hitchcock strikes again. The attention and ire she brought upon me that day, however, was nothing like that which resulted from taking my nephew to the beach and letting him feed the seagulls. He was delighted by their antics, but we had to leave - the flock grew, people started to notice and were very, very angry. Some of my fondest memories of those days are of taking my son and granddaughter to a different spot on that island park where she could feed the geese and ducks without anyone else being around. I'm glad he caught video of her delighted toddler laughter. And of sitting in the nature building there on bad days, taking my lunch hour watching and listening to the birds on the couch by the window.

Fast forward another 10 years. We moved to "dad's woods". My son and I worked for a rescue. He was quickly able to adopt dad's perspective in many ways, much more accepting of death than I. One of the turkeys to which I'd become very attached was dying. My son came in to find me sitting on ice and frozen yuck, in 20 degree weather, with my coat off and wrapped around the turkey, tears nearly freezing to my face. When I framed and hung a picture of the turkey and a crippled pheasant to whom I was also very attached, he was convinced I was more than a little "off". When a blind gosling was brought in, I was careful not to let anyone see or hear as I rocked and sang to it. But I daresay it made a difference. Even after I got a "real job" and couldn't be there as often and he was disturbed by anyone who came near, I could sing the same song and he'd quiet and come to me.

Time moved on. The rescue closed, leaving the kids and I very grieved. I bought a small place with some acreage and a pond on which to raise my granddaughters. They came to love all things that fly - butterflies, dragon and damsel flies, moths and fireflies. The birds came to know us. The ducks return to the pond every year, always bringing one or two new ones. Humming birds dive-bomb near my head in the garden if the feeders are empty. Chickadees come near and call for the same reason. I adopted a rooster who'd been rehomed several times due to aggression, along with several hens and we had fresh eggs. The girls were thrilled when several hatched. We had 2 baby turken-chicken hens and a baby roo who looked just like his dad. When his dad died, he took over. Behind the coop, a family of ruffled grouse and one of quail moved in. He was ok with the quail, as they tended to just sit and eat in the apple trees. The grouse cock, well that was a different story. He would pace along the fence, puffed up and calling the hens, causing enough commotion to bring us running. Hawks and eagles were always a threat until we began feeding the ravens that frequented the area. New to chickens, I didn't know this would bring a reward. It was just a good way to dispose of food that would otherwise be wasted. Saturdays, we bring the trash to the dump, so that is the day to clean out the ancient fridge. The ravens quickly figured out the schedule and began circling the house on Saturday mornings. It drives the dog crazy, though he's gotten better about it. In return, I often see them drive away the hawks and eagles and I've never had a bird taken or harmed. Yes, my chickens have names and will never see a stewpot. Yes, my son says I've graduated from crazy cat lady to crazy chicken lady (said with affection and an eye-roll). As fall sets in, I'm sad to see so many of the flying ones go before the cold sets in. Watching the huge numbers of geese go by, I know winter is coming and as always it will be harsh. But the chickadees, ravens and chickens will remain.

It mystifies me that, even here, so close to all of nature, people remain hesitant and frightened. Most recently, the eldest granddaughter and I walked into a store where several adults were fussing over whether anyone knew how to get a bird out of the store. I looked up to see if it was roosting or flying and finally asked where it was. They directed me to look "in the corner". I freely admit my eyesight isn't what it was and I need new glasses, but I didn't see anything. My granddaughter spotted it and pointed it out. I had expected something fairly large and perhaps threatening due to fear or injury. No. A little, tiny orchard oriel was huddled and shaking in the corner. Talking softly and moving slowly, she let me scoop her up and I carried her outside. She sat in my hands a minute or two then took beautiful, swooping flight, heading for the apple trees behind the store. My daughter, upon hearing the grand's report, laughed and said any bird needing rescue seems to wait for me to come along. But I am grateful for that brief, trusting contact and the opportunity to soothe and comfort, even for a moment. I'm grateful that my granddaughter was there to see the foolishness that comes with lack of education and thoughtfulness. And I remain grateful, after 60+ years, for the lessons my parents taught me about the value of those who don't walk on two legs, a lesson my children and grandchildren carry forward.

Terry Lerma
Terry Lerma
Read next: Allie on the Sand
Terry Lerma

I am a 62 year old grandma with custody of three granddaughters (6, 8 and 10) living in Michigan's northwest upper penninsula. I am a semi-retired social psychologist trying to revive the creative writing skills beat out of me years ago.

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