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!


Char T -- Org. Gard. said...


This was a fabulous read. I couldn't stop. I have a friend that stopped her car, got out bear-handed and picked up one from the middle of the road. She tucked it under her arm and drove with the other hand to our local Vet. He told her she was "crazy". She went back to work and the Vet later called her back to find our where she had picked it up. He told her that he had to take it back to the same area because they are territorial and could starve to death.

I'm glad to hear you were well armed!! We need some pictures of that. LOL

linda said...

Char t, Unfortunately, as intelligent as I'm sure that hawk was, I don't think he could've mastered a digital camera to capture me 'in all my battle armor'. :) Besides, it took me a month or so to figure out how to operate the camera myself! Hah! And there's no way I'm going to don that gear again and pose so my hubby can preserve that image for photographic posterity.

Thanks so much for commenting. I'm glad my adventures in the garden kept you 'glued' to your computer and entertained.


Patty said...

I loved your story and could just picture you in all your armor ready to do battle (i mean rescue)

I was thinking that with your heavy heart, you may have been looking out that window where once a friend had gazed.

Many times God gives us a distraction from our loss and pain with something from nature(His other lesson book).

I like to think that Jr.Red Tailed Hawk was just what you needed at that time to feel needed and put your mind on something else besides grief, if even for a short time.

You write so beautifully and colorful that I can see a movie of what is going on in my mind and I love your sense of humor as well.

I hope you have some more interesting tales of your compost tumbler in the future.

linda said...

You wrote: "I could see a movie of what was going on inside my mind".

That is probably - no probably about it - the very nicest and dearest compliment I or any writer could be paid about something they've written. Often times I'll tell my husband I like to paint pictures with words for others to interpret or envision. Thank you again and also for your kind words about how Nature can soften the edges of jagged pain. Linda

Janet said...

Wonderful story! Beautiful pictures! You are a brave soul...and I'm proud to call you my friend!

Organicbaby said...

Linda, I have tears in my eyes! It's been a long time since I laughed this hard! The whole donning of the armor and grabbing a fly swatter (for crying out loud!:-)) and to help a predator no less. Deep breath, wipe eyes...

I laugh only because I've found myself in the same situation before. The first time was a pelican with a broken wing (note to self: band the beak first!) The second time was a cormorant with a broken leg (see above:)) My first instinct was "Gotta do something NOW!". Rush outside to help the creature and realize I don't have a clue as to HOW. Things worked out regardless of that fact.

Thank God for those people who help ALL of His creatures and thank YOU for mastering the digital camera and sharing this beautiful creature with us!


linda said...

Sherry, I doff my Yankee batting helmet to you and touch you lightly on each shoulder with the Royal Septre Flyswatter to dub you Knight (Knightess?) of the Avian Roundtable. Thanks for commenting and sharing your experiences as well. Linda