Monday, May 31, 2010

Rear Window

Lying in bed, awake but not up, listening to the sounds of the early morning from the open window behind my head. There is a softness to the acoustics of this early hour that makes the sounds filtered and precise and storylike. I remember it from when I was a kid. Lying in bed on a Saturday morning at 82 Nutmeg Lane, listening to the shouts of my friends in the street outside, like characters in a play, until I had to get up and enter the scene myself.

This time the characters were the little girls in the house behind ours, especially one who speaks in ringing proclamations. The words just a wee bit too distant to make out in the breeze, except for "Mama, I wanna go outside!" Commentary supplied by fussing robins and a gang of blue jays. All of which, with the faint rumble of the world's traffic in the background, makes a neat deep window of the day, corresponding to the one marked 31 on the calendar.

That window is also Memorial Day, a paradoxical holiday with solemn rationale, but in practice festive, the gateway to summer, observed with backyard cookouts and other summer fare—"the stuff of dying wishes," as summed up in the last panel of "Arlo and Janis" in today's Globe.

Larry's Big Day

What scene would the window play out for the red-tailed hawks? Festivity, solemnity, or some combination?

On a mid-morning visit, we noticed fewer of the faithful than usual in front of 185. Turning onto the access road that wound behind the building, we saw why. A bigger crowd was gathered there, facing a telephone wire where a young redtail was perched. It was Larry, the middle fledgling. He had flown!

Yesterday, around noon, Lucy, the first to hatch, had drawn cheers from the humans and gawks from her siblings when she took a wing-aided jump a few feet up to the top of the window post, captured in Ernie Sarro's blog. A flight? Not quite. "Branching," it's called, when they do it in trees.

Then, this morning, shortly after 6 AM, Larry seized his moment. I got it secondhand (it made the evening news): He had unfolded his wings, lifted off the ledge and flown—flown—to the Circle Furniture roof next door, from there to the Dunkin' Donuts roof; from there to a few more hopscotch squares until reaching this iffy perch. Apparently mom and dad had flown by once to persuade a mob of blue jays not to mess with their son. He had remained on the wire for more than an hour.

As we were about to leave, Larry had enough of teetering on his talons. He took off! Flapped those wings like he knew what to do. Showed up again shortly afterwards on top of an air conditioning duct on another building. At one point mom and dad both appeared, circling high overhead as if in parental celebration. One down, two to go!

We paid another visit, my father-in-law and I, around 5:00 in the afternoon. Lucy and Lucky were still in the nest. And where was Larry? I put the question to photographer Andy Provost, stalwart vigil-keeper with the white moustache and courtly manner. He was on a cell phone. "Larry flew into a window and landed on the road," he answered briefly. "He's hurt." And, he added, being waited on by a lot of well-meaning people who would do better to leave him alone.

I hesitantly joined those people, expecting to see Larry still down, maimed. But perhaps he had only been dazed, for he was now up on another overhead wire. Poor Larry! The facts were confused, but apparently, not yet schooled in the deceit of glass, he had flown into more than one window and had at one point alit in the middle of the Parkway. Two birders stopped traffic in both directions, then one shooed Larry to one side of the street with a blanket, having been advised by a policeman (yet another bird expert) not to pick it up lest the stink of humans drive away its own mom and dad. And now here he was, wondering perhaps why he'd ever left the nest.

Then the grown-up arrived. A wildlife control officer from Mass. Audubon had been summoned. After hearing the facts of the case, and observing Larry on the wire, she noted that all this interest in the hawks was "fascinating," but Larry seemed fine, not down, not limping, and our presence was stressing the bird, stressing its parents (at one point, mom had landed on the opposite roof, then flown off), and we should all leave. Defensively, some pointed out that we had already taken some risk in trying to save Larry's life. She understood that and reiterated her viewpoint. It was not without merit. And her authority was impressive. Reluctantly, the crowd drifted back to the nest side of the building, wondering perhaps if this, too, was now against the rules.


The day ended under what appeared to be a smoky pall from millions of backyard barbecues. It turned out to be the smoke from 46 forest fires burning in Quebec. More solemnity confused with festivity. From Mayday to m'aidez. Though rain was expected. And beautiful, birdiful, verdant, oily, complicated May vanished in smoke and thunder.

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