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Talking Eyes ... True Animal Stories
By Ilse Kern
Havert PressCopyright © 2005 Ilse Kern
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Drunk Robin
After a tense day at work, there is nothing more invigorating than shedding your office attire, kicking off those tight shoes, jumping into your sloppy gardening pants and doing a little digging, planting and talking to your flowers.
The "talking" is the most important part. Whenever the admirers of my flowering plants give me compliments, I answer their question of my success with: "You must talk to your plants, the amiable vibration helps their growth and blooming." (By the way, I am convinced that this is true!)
When working in my garden, I noticed a colorful robin, (he must have been a male; the females are not as red), who watched my digging with interest. He likes worms, insects and berries.
Robins are members of the thrush family; they fly south, away from the hard winters in New England. The belly is rust-red; the head is black with a white ring around the eyes, yellow beak, and gray/brown coat with white under his belly. They are the first birds singing in the morning greeting us at dawn with a series of happy musical whistles like "Cheerily, cheerily."
We had a resident robin, who came to visit every day, but never brought his wife. We found sky-blue eggshells under the big oak tree in back of the house in the spring, an indication that a robin's nest with family was there.
A little patch of vegetable garden in back of our house in Guilford, Connecticut, was a new "experimental" addition to my outdoor activities. The cleaning out of a 6 by 7 foot plot from the dense edge of our large wooded property was certainly good exercise; the sandy soil did not look too good for gardening, some of the big roots would not budge, but I planted some beans anyway. What excitement!
The first green sprouts appeared, and for a couple of days my enjoyment, watching more and more sprouts appearing, was so thrilling, that I got a speeding ticket on Mulberry Point Road when pushing too fast to go home.
Without driving the car into the garage, I jumped out of the car, ran to my "garden," my high heels getting stuck, and there was a disaster!
All my beautiful green bean sprouts were eaten off down to the seeds. Who had the nerve to do that to me! I knew it was not the deer; there were plenty of new tasty leaves for them on a lot of trees. The raccoons ignore little plants like that, and I had not seen any rabbits lately.
I consulted everyone I knew who had experience in gardening; including nurseries and the animal science department at Yale University. Several answers and guesses were given. The most logical one was that SLUGS living in the woods so close to the garden slid over and feasted on the nice fresh greens - and sure enough, I found some evidence in slugs hiding under low-hanging leaves of neighboring bushes.
Now came the big question: How do I get rid of them? (I did not feel remorse since there was no communication established between them and me; they seemed completely oblivious to my asking them to leave my garden alone.) Poisonous spray was not acceptable and a different remedy had to be found. Tabulating all the recommended solutions, one stood out as the most popular one: placing a deep soup bowl filled with beer in the middle of the plants would attract the slugs and make them slide into the beer and drown. That seemed a humane ending for these criminals, and I decided to try it.
Soup bowls we had plenty, but the beer supply consisted of a few bottles of expensive imported German beer (Warsteiner). Well, let them die in style - and I filled a bowl with that special brew, thinking that the slugs definitely could not resist it, and placed it in the center of the garden.
I went to bed dreaming of giant slugs attacking all my plants and shrubs and my husband Gunther and I spraying beer on them with our garden hose until the whole garden area was a lake of beer filled with huge dead slugs.
Next morning, exhausted from the dream and running late, I did not check the garden until I was back home after work. Suppressing guilt feelings but still hoping for a successful demise of my enemies, I walked over to the garden and found no evidence of dead slugs, but the bowl was empty; some animals had devoured the precious beer and survived.
Looking closer, I noticed a few feet behind the empty bowl a bird lying halfway on his back but leaning on one wing, one leg in the air. I bent down to it, thinking that it needed help, and I saw that it was a robin, struggling to get some equilibrium. Out of the white feather circle, one of his black eyes kept winking at me as if saying a jolly "hello" to me, completely without fear.
There was evidence of crumbs of soil in the bowl and I concluded that the slugs had drowned or were still drunk in the bowl and then were finished off by the robin as a special occasion meal. Eating the whole lot of them made the robin look like a blown up little bird balloon in a completely drunken state of mind. His red speckled belly looked like it was filled to maximum capacity, the white feathers at the underside of his body were spiking out like they were ready to pop.
We had taken in a friend, Ann, who was staying in our guesthouse, a lovely young lady struggling through a bitter divorce. She also was a gardener and loved animals. With compassion she saw me agonizing over my "farming" project and was full of advice, some good and some bad.
I called her to see this incredible spectacle of a drunken bird, and to figure out what to do. We decided that first we had to give the robin some coffee, to get him out of his stupor; she had a small eyedropper, sanitized it and filled it with coffee.
Second, we placed the half paralyzed bird in a shoebox lined with soft handkerchiefs. I held his beak open and she dribbled the coffee down his throat. He started to struggle a little, probably trying to prevent choking to death, and landed on his feet for a second before falling over again.
Bit by bit he improved, and we started to walk him in his box, pushing him from one end to the other. The poor thing kept winking at me out of one eye, but the other eye stayed shut.
At this point, Ann and I were starving and had to run into the kitchen to grab a snack. Luckily, my husband Gunther was on a business trip and our son was visiting an aunt, so cooking dinner was not a priority. We left the bird to rest and catch his breath.
An hour later, the robin was able to stand on both of his feet and hopped a little, but his big belly hung on him like a heavy load and it was obvious that he could not fly away. The second eye started to flicker, and his little brain started to recognize the strange environment of the confining box.
We wanted to get him back into his home territory before he got too scared, but were worried about a cat or raccoon hunting him down. We placed him back at the edge of the garden under thick bushes and nudged him to walk around, crawling on hands and knees to watch him move.
It was getting dark. Fortunately, quite quickly, he was able to move faster and scooted into the thick bushes, hopefully to sleep and come out.
We went inside and celebrated with a glass of wine the successful rescue of the robin and the elimination of a set of slugs. I also needed to drown my guilt feelings, since my experiment upset the balance of nature in our woods.
It was obvious that there were many more slugs around, and I decided to abandon the garden, which was cutting a hole into the wild natural forest.
Next morning we looked for the bird, but there was no sight of him.
During the summer, we heard the lovely short phrases of a robin's song early in the mornings coming out of our big trees in the woods, and several times during the summer, we saw a beautiful and healthy red robin in our front yard picking some live food out of the soil.
He looked at me from the side with no fear, and I am sure he winked at me with one eye.
Excerpted from Talking Eyes ... True Animal Stories by Ilse Kern Copyright © 2005 by Ilse Kern. Excerpted by permission.
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