Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Clothes Dryer, Ants, and a Baby Robin

In our new house in a new city in a new province, a lot of things are, not surprisingly, new. For example, birds. Our backyard is filled with birdsong. Unfamiliar birds swoop down from the trees squabbling and chasing each other. There is a black bird, smaller than a crow, with long fan-shaped tail feathers, an iridescent blue head, a white beak, and a short harsh call. Another interesting small bird, unlike anything I have ever seen, is sleek and tan coloured with a tuft on its head like a jay, and black, yellow, and red markings on its wings. There are also lots of flickers, robins, and sparrows; these I do recognize.

One morning recently, Rob and I stood at our bedroom window rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and surveying the backyard. We observed a short, very fat bird hopping on the lawn. We wondered what kind of bird it might be. I said to Rob, "It almost looks like a robin, except it is so short and stubby, and it doesn't have a red breast." Simultaneously, we both recognized it as a baby robin.

The next morning, we saw the baby robin again, a little bundle of feathers, dead on the back step. Our cat, Oliver, must have been outside doing what cats do. He is a fat, lazy fellow. As he spent the first year of his life in an animal shelter, we didn't know he he knew how to hunt. But apparently he can catch birds: baby ones.

This afternoon, in between doing loads of laundry, I was out the back working in the garden, and I noticed another baby robin. The little bird was perched on the fence (and the cat was safely in the house, sleeping). The dogs were in the yard with me, but oblivious to the robin.

As I worked the heavy clay soil (new to me: for the last twenty years, I have gardened in sandy loam), I was thinking about the clothes dryer. When we moved in two months ago, the first thing we did before the moving truck even arrived, was purchase a new washer and dryer set. The laundry area in the new house is a challenge. It is a small nook off the hallway. Because of narrowness of the space and the placement of the doorway, there were limited options. The previous owners, who are tall people, had a stackable set that they took with them, but I am too short to reach into a dryer placed up on top of a washer in any case. We settled on a side-by-side set with a top loading washer that was just barely narrow enough to fit in, and the dryer has to be positioned just so in order to have enough room to open the dryer door.

The set we bought was expensive. The two appliances are solidly made, and have touch-screen computerized controls. They are quiet, energy efficient, and most importantly, they fit the space. However, the computer in the dryer seems to not be working properly. The screen turns itself on at random times of the day and night with little beeping sounds. It flips through the programming options by itself without anyone or anything touching the touch screen. We have read the pamphlet that came with the machine, and researched the model on the internet, but have not found a solution to the problem with the controls. We searched for the warranty card and sent it in. I was fretting about this as I dug and planted.

From time to time, I glanced over at the robin. It continued to perch on the fence in the same place looking around, a bit of cottonwood fluff stuck to its head. I must have worked in the garden for a couple of hours, and the bird never moved. I wondered if it was able to fly, and where the mother robin was. The dogs remained oblivious to the baby robin.

I needed a stepping stone for my garden. On the edge of one of the nearby raised beds, there was a red flat rock, about sixteen inches in diameter -- a perfect stepping stone. As I had noticed quite a few ants around it, I began by tipping the stone off the raised bed and turning it over. As soon as the stone was removed, ants exploded in every direction. It was the roof to their anthill.

I sat down on a garden tie to watch. On the exposed top of the anthill and also on the underside of the rock, were many ant eggs. The ants urgently surrounded the eggs, and began dragging them down holes into the anthill. The eggs stuck in the clay soil of the overturned rock posed a greater challenge. Somehow the ants had to drag the eggs, each one larger than any individual ant, a height of five garden ties (about two vertical feet) off the lawn and back up to the nest. I watched the ants working together at a frenetic pace to rescue their eggs.

As I sat there with my back to the fence, I heard a commotion and then a swoosh of wings. Sophie, our terrier mutt, apparently finally had noticed the baby robin. She was standing up on her hind legs against the fence, and the baby robin was nowhere to be seen. After securing the dogs, I went out the gate into the alley, looking for the baby robin. It was not on the ground nearby. I didn't see it on a fence or tree, either. However, in a tree across the way, I heard robins twittering loudly. I would like to think that the baby, startled into flight, had managed to fly up into a tree and back to its mother. 

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