Thoughts on a Disaffected Pigeon
Some weeks are harder than others.
The weeds are everywhere in the gravel driveway. I’ve jammed my fingers into the pebbled earth to rip their roots, but there are just too damn many. I had to arm myself with a spray bottle of vinegar and lemon juice and spritz them, plant by plant. Hunched over with vinegar misting back on to my clothing from the hilly breezes rushing past, it was a desperate and smelly attempt to avoid the commercial stuff.
That’s when the pigeon landed. He was a majestic, slightly pudgy fellow who had been tap dancing on the roof for some time leading up to my weed expedition. I had heard him from my oversized living room chair where I had been munching tuna salad on crackers. I was afraid it was mice in the attic. Or maybe Benny the Badger came back and somehow got on the roof. Sounds weird, but he’s the one who shut off the water supply to the house. That was a talented badger. It’s a shame his life was cut short attempting to cross a bendy part of the road. Such a waste.
When I saw the pigeon land on the gravel a few feet from my hunched form, I knew he had been my roof ghost. His landing was so deliberate and closeby that I got the distinct feeling that he was greeting me. I did the polite thing and said hello and complimented his feathers. No joke. I did this out loud. My neighbors should get accustomed to the strange new American lady who talks to her wildlife and names them. The pigeon, by the way, was instantly dubbed Herbie.
I didn’t imagine that my relationship with Herbie would last much longer than our initial greeting, so I continued to edge around the gravel weed beds spritzing vinegar. Herbie followed along. I observed aloud that he had a band on his leg and asked where he got that from. His head tilted. We shuffled across the yard for the next twenty minutes, with me occasionally chastising Herbie for walking through the vinegar. I plunked myself down at the bistro table set I bought myself for my first Irish birthday and sipped some Coke while watching Herbie peck at who-knows-what in the gravel.
That’s when it occurred to me to Google banded pigeons. Was he being tracked by an ornithologist? Did he escape from an aviary? No, indeed. He is either a very unskilled or disaffected racing pigeon.
Yes, this is the week I learned that “pigeon racing” is a thing. The birds are cared for like domestic pets, banded, and trained for homing. Then they are released with several of their compatriots at a reasonable distance from their homes. Each bird is clocked to see how quickly they get back. Herbie had not embraced the spirit of the competition, clearly.
I phoned in his appearance as a “stray”, which the local pigeon racing club politely asks you do. I’m still not sure why I felt compelled to report Herbie, and part of me still wonders if I should have. The gent on the other end of the line assured me that he wouldn’t be culled for his naughty sojourn and he would be well-greeted. Cool. I don’t want to be a bird narc.
I asked the jolly bird man if I should try to trap Herbie under a basket until he could be picked up. After all, my vast phone research told me that these birds are domesticated and not suited to the wild. They’re also smarter than most dogs and some primates. Go, Herbie. He enthusiastically entreated me to kindly snag the bird, but then acted befuddled as to how on earth he could persuade any of his cohorts to travel all the way out to the wilderness of my part of Ireland.
It’s true. We’re in the middle of nowhere’s nowhere. We are rural extreme. Even for Ireland. But it’s their damn bird who decided to take a chill here, so I figure they should have been a bit more on the ball to hop in the nearest vehicle (theirs or not) and race to save Herbie. He’s a pigeon worth rescuing.
Instead, Herbie took one look at my daughter crunching across the gravel toward him and decided to dart off into the sky and away toward tree lines I couldn’t even quite see. Bye, Herbie. Live well. We had spent a total of about three hours of shared experience, and I hoped he was headed straight home. He might even win the damn race. Yet, I was glum for the rest of the night at his unceremonious departure. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
It was a day of futility. Phone calls that no one would answer or return. Shopping trips in which I forgot important items, like my favorite strawberry water. Just as I was ready to kick rocks and spit, I learned from the local shopkeeper that my landlady is in town. She lives in England and has come ’round to witness a loved one’s passing. This has me dually worried about when she could possibly pop in to see that I am hardly a dreamy housekeeper. And oh yes, I have four cats. Not two. I’m really sorry about that fib. Worst of all though, I’m also feeling wormy inside for worrying about litter box freshness when she is considering how to say goodbye to her mother. No doubt she packed a dress for a funeral.
This becomes the day I fixate on death. Ever since my little sister died, I get these days. But I can’t help my landlady’s mom, and I don’t want to talk about my sister. So I researched Mt. Everest deaths for the better part of the day. If you can handle the macabre, it’s actually a very fascinating topic, full of things like corpse nicknames. Sleeping Beauty. Green Boots. And in my dark headspace, I wondered what my mountain-death nickname would be. The day had taken a wicked dark turn.
And then my delightfully oblivious daughter shouts from the back bedroom that Herbie is back. He’s pecking along the grass line just as yesterday. I’m both tickled with delight and saddened. That naughty pigeon was supposed to go home. Great, he’s lost. His wasn’t a fluke pop-in, but an extended visit. I want to phone the weird bird group again, but there’s no point without Herbie contained in some way.
As soon as I tried to greet him, though, I think he read my mind. Or maybe he caught the color of my Wednesday aura. Anyway, he flew off again so fast that I didn’t even get a chance to ask him how he was keeping.
That’s when the rain began to pour. Or as they say here, “bucket”. The drops were light, misty, and many, all of them whipped about by the wind. With precious minutes to go before I had to depart to pick up my husband from work (one car for the win!), I sat myself down on the front concrete step and just watched the rain and the trees. Next to me was the laundry basket in case Herbie came back. I knew he wouldn’t in this spitting rain, but I wanted to watch for him anyway. And the fresh, warm wind was good for my soul.
The rain lightened to nothing and the wind blew across my front step and made bits of my hair fly around. Still I sat on my concrete step and watched, wondering if I even really wanted to catch Herbie. And why I cared so much about a tagged pigeon.
From down the hilly road came a vehicle. It looked like an extremely clean and modern camper van with dark windows. I wondered which neighbors shelled out bucks for that. It had to be a neighbor since there is virtually nothing north of us except peat bogs for miles and miles. But then it was followed by a very sleek modern commercial van with tinted windows. And another. Five in total. All new, none dirtied at all, and all of them with at least partially jet-black tinted windows.
As they flew down the road toward peat bog oblivion I regarded them curiously. More than one of the drivers turned to see me, but with no hint of friendliness. It struck me that they each just looked at me, as if in that brief moment they could scrutinize me.
My macabre brain hoped they weren’t off to test some biological weapon in the bogs, and that their stares weren’t those of horror and pity. Good news, though: I’m still here and I have no illness complaints. There weren’t any “booms” from the north. So maybe they weren’t the stealthy mustache-swizzling scientists and agents I imagined them to be.
It did occur to me, however, that President Trump (blurg) is scheduled to visit this County in a week’s time and the Secret Service have laid siege to the southern ends of our beautiful land. Then with the click of a little mental light bulb it dawns on me that they could be mapping out emergency routes or “bug-out” locations. Perhaps sometime soon I’ll see an American chopper land near a peat bog not too far from my favorite cows.
Maybe they weren’t Secret Service either. Maybe it was all my imagination. If I’m honest, I was starting to wonder the same thing about Herbie’s visits. This week just keeps getting weirder.
There was a lot of wine last night. Between the imaginary Secret Service parade and pigeon encounters, plus an ugly incident with a litter box and an Annie Hall-style spider in the kitchen, I had reached my limits of not-wine. The local pub will sell you a bottle of wine at a very reasonable price that you can drink with your dinner, and then take the rest with you. That’s where my night kicked off.
This Thursday isn’t so bad though. I have hydrated nicely and aside from the Buick spider repositioning his bulbous self above the kitchen door (waiting, I presume, to pounce), Thursday was lovely and quiet. Still no sign of my landlady, which is satisfactory.
It was at the end of the otherwise very mellow and rewarding day that I turned to look out my window and saw my favorite pigeon, for whom I now wish I had selected a cleverer name. Agamemnon. Lancel. Horatio. Betty White. Aelfric.
This time I went out alone, because that’s what I knew I had to do. I held the basket in one hand, but plucked out weeds from the gravel with the other so that he knew we still shared an interest. Then in the weediest bit of the driveway I lowered the plastic basket over him and stepped back with my heart thumping away. Mission accomplished. Three days of fixation over a bird with a green foot band. Sort of like Green Boots.
What was I doing? Why was I even trapping him? Why was I rushing to the phone to call the racing group? I think I wanted some kind of closure and satisfaction. Thankfully, it was among the many futile phone calls of my week. No answer. So I folded my legs, lowering myself down to the gravel just to look at the pigeon. He wasn’t panicked. He just pecked at the sides of the basket and paced.
The rainclouds hovered over head and I looked about at them like they might have the answer. Do I try to shelter a domesticated bird and keep him safe from himself? Or do I just have to accept he is on his own little birdy journey? How did I even get myself into such a predicament?
It barely seemed like a real question, because as soon as I had lowered the basket I hated myself a little. So this time I said goodbye to Herbie and thanked him for stopping by. I laid out some brief instructions to go home, but if he truly didn’t want to, he could come back here. Then I lifted the basket. He hopped forward about ten steps and then soared into the sky.
This was the first day I didn’t feel sorrow seeing him go.