August 23, 2007

You Know You're Not Turning Your Compost Enough When... of your resident red-tailed hawks decides he'd better get his talons busy tossing the stuff if you're not going to do it.

I awoke one morning a few weeks ago to see this "little" guy (if you can say 26" is little for a bird that isn't a condor or a bald eagle) was prancing around in one of my compost piles. I ran to my trusty, handy-dandy Petersen's Bird Guide to identify this handsome devil and it appeared he was a juvenile red-tailed hawk. No red tail at his age, so that threw me off initially. At that point, like any typical 'baby' bird, he was more fluffy and downy than anything and his coloring was still a bit muted although beautiful.

After I took several pictures (of course) I noticed he wasn't exactly prancing. He was panicking as he tried, unsuccessfully, to fly out of the soft, vinyl-webbed enclosure. With every attempt he'd crash into the webbing, bounce off of it and back into the pile. Why was he unable to get airborne, I wondered? Then I saw the chunk of bark that he held clutched in the huge talons of his orange right leg. One of those daggers had pierced through the wood and it was lodged onto his foot. My heart broke as I watched him flutter, crash and bounce continually while that chunk of bark clung to him. Perhaps that was throwing off his balance. I, too, began to panic. I've seen my share of critters in distress in and around my garden and have always done whatever I could to rescue them. So my immediate reaction was to help this poor fellow out of the enclosure.

Racing to the back door to his aid - to do exactly what I didn't know - I suddenly stopped in my tracks. "Linda", I reminded myself, "this is no little finch you're rescuing here!" I could hardly scoop him up in a towel and deposit him in a shoe box. I didn't have any beach towels handy nor did I or my husband wear shoes big enough. Besides, even if he did allow me to get close enough, I risked more than just a gentle brush of feathers should he manage to take flight past my face. The thought of deep gashes from those talons across my cheeks and forearms caused me to seriously pause and rethink the situation and my approach.

First, I needed some protective headgear. Ah! My husband's Yankee batting helmet. But what about body armor? It was 90 degrees plus that morning, but I rummaged through the winter clothes in the closet and hauled out my heaviest, quilted, down-stuffed jacket. Okay: head, body somewhat protected. Now I needed something to fend him off should he decide I was more of a threat than an aid and his increased panic rejuvenated his flying abilities and sent him lunging for my helmeted, down-stuffed body. I didn't want to flail something over my head like a mad woman. That would frighten him even more. (Not the neighbors, however, as they've become used to some of my rather "strange peccadilloes" in the garden over the years.)

Do you ever notice that when you're on automatic-pilot-emergency-must-do-something-and-no-time-to-properly-evaluate-the-circumstances wind up doing at least one thing that, in retrospect, was totally ludicrous? As in: "What the hell was I thinking?"

In my frenetic quest for a pseudo-defensive weapon to wield and finding it unbearable to wait a second longer to help this beautiful creature, anxiously poised at the backdoor, I reached for the closest thing at hand. A flyswatter. A pink, plastic flyswatter.

Indeed. What the hell was I thinking?

To my relief - and I'm sure the young hawk's - just as I neared the back corner of my house, I saw that not only had he managed to free himself from my 8'X4' leaf mulch/compost pile, but was resting quite peacefully and regally on the corner of my deck. I silently withdrew to the backdoor, closing it slowly as I stepped inside so he wouldn't hear the "click" of the latch, become startled again and fly off. I wanted to see him even closer from the safety inside my house and check that he'd unhinged himself rom the chunk of wood as well. Slithering up to the back window once again, I could see that his talons were indeed free of the wood, and he posed there for some time on the corner of my deck assuming a very stately stance as if to tell me "Go ahead, check me out for as long as you need. I'm okay."

Still wearing my helmet and down jacket I managed to snap a few more pictures of him in all his royal glory as he temporarily claimed my deck for his throne.

You must trust me, dear reader, that there isn't one iota of embellishment here. These were the actual events and my actions as they unfolded. Truly as silly as parts may sound, on that blazing hot morning in late July, I sallied forth unto The Great Piles Of Compost On The Moors, helmeted, downed and brandishing my Excalibur flyswatter which was removed not from a legendary stone but from a metal hook on the wall of my mudroom - to rescue not a fair maiden but one of Nature's gifts that blessed my garden that day. However, on that fateful day, Nature oversaw the welfare of its own as She so often does and relieved me of my gardener's duty as steward of my land and the critters therein.

I removed the Royal Yankee Helmet; shed my regal robes of down and laid up Excalibur flyswatter upon the golden hook - knowing that soon enough another day would dawn outside my castle walls when a new battle would join and "Her Ladyship of Gardenz-A-Lot" would be called upon to once again unsheathe the Holy Grail of flyswatters.

All hail my not-so-little-compost turner!