Animal Tales

Bird Stories

I was walking in the Cascade Mountains and apparently had passed too close to a Blue Jay’s nest. The Jay flew to a branch near me and made a lot of noise to get my attention. I moved toward it. The Jay flew to another branch farther from its nest, still squawking loudly and fluttering in an odd way though it might be injured. And so, step by step, the Jay led me away from its nest until it was satisfied I was no longer a danger to its young. It then flew away and left me in the quiet of the forest.

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My cat Snickers had a litter of kittens before she was spayed. While they were still very young a visitor came by with her dog. We were sitting outside. The kittens were in the house but the dog was sniffing with interest at the back door. Snickers leap on top of the head of the dog, sank her claws deep and clung on in a manner that convinced everyone including the dog she meant business. The dog yowled and retreated and Snickers jumped off. The dog was about 5 times her size and would likely be the clear winner in a serious battle between them, yet he kept his distance from then on.

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A couple of years later, in another springtime, Snickers was showing great interest in a Western Tanager nest in a Locus tree outside the back door. She was sitting on her haunches staring at it. Mama Tanager was at home with her newly hatched young and noticed Snicker’s attentions. The Tanager made some kind of call. A group of about ten Tanagers from nearby trees soon arrived and the bunch of them started dive-bombing Snicker’s head. Had she kept her presence of mind, Snickers could have easily batted them out of the air one by one. She was a quick cat and a good hunter. Instead she at first held her ground and ducked, and then retreated after about half a minute of this bird assault. The reinforcements went back to their own nests.

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One day, in yet another springtime I heard that awful thunk of a bird hitting a window as I walked along the side of my house. When I got to the window there was a female Tanager lying in the grass. When I came back by the window a moment later the Tanager was gone. I was pleased to think she had only been stunned, but about 30 feet further on I saw a Tanager body lying on the ground, which I had not noticed before and which was nowhere near any window or obvious cause of death. I stopped in puzzlement and while I watched, a male Tanager landed beside her, took one of her legs in his beak, and flew about 50 feet before landing again. He rested a moment, and then repeated this maneuver. I followed his progress by 50-foot increments until he finally disappeared over a fence and out of my sight. Taking his baby back home.

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I hiked up the trail of Telescope Peak, in the Panamint Range overlooking Death Valley. You can see a long way from up there, a hundred miles in some directions. At night you can see the lights of Las Vegas reflected in the sky. The top, at 11,000 feet, is wide open, with only a few rocks, bare except for some low growing vegetation. When I got there I was soon joined by some small, brilliantly iridescent green birds. They began flying around me at the very top, whirling and doing barrel rolls and zooming around each other. I thought at first they might be feeding on airborne insects, but looking closer I couldn’t see any. I had the distinct impression they were showing off, reveling in their mastery of the sky, and maybe even felt a little sorry for me, poor earth-bound creature that I was. But since I had at least managed to get up there they would favor me with a taste of flight. This is our life, they seemed to say, we fly and play and this big world you see around you is ours. And to prove it they flew away and left me standing there looking at all that space, attached to the ground by heavy feet.

Mouse Story

A Buddhist practitioner was on a meditation retreat in a trailer down the road from my house. The trailer had been unoccupied for some time and mice had made themselves at home in it. Their constant scrabbling around and nibbling on things was quite a distraction to the meditator, and of course the mice had become very interested in the new food supply he had brought with him. He had acquired a live-capture trap and was catching them and releasing them some distance away from the trailer but this was having no real effect on the situation. The mice were either finding their way back or being replaced by others as soon as they left.

One night I began writing a letter to the meditator explaining to him why he should just kill the mice. This was a tricky business because as a Buddhist, he respected all life and wished no harm to these mice and therefore my argument had to be especially good. After sweating over this problem for a couple of hours I belatedly realized the absurdity of what I was doing. The mice were no problem to me so what did I care? If the meditator chose a non-violent approach that was his right and his business. And spending my time plotting mouse murder made me feel suddenly awfully petty and mean-spirited. At about 1:00 in the morning I decided I owed the mice an apology. I walked over to the trailer in the dim moonlight and burned the letter on the ground. I went home to bed feeling I had barely saved myself from the brink of idiocy.

Late the next morning the meditator came by as he sometimes did, for a bit of human interaction to offset the isolation of his retreat. He came in with a sort of incredulous look on his face and said excitedly, “They’re gone!”

Tucson Posse

I was traveling and had stopped in Tucson to do laundry. I went for a walk while the clothes were drying and after turning a corner found myself headed straight down the sidewalk toward the local dog pack out on patrol. Led by a Great Dane, this posse had about a dozen members of different breeds and sizes down to a Chihuahua, no two of them the same. We all stopped. After a moment’s inspection the Great Dane stepped forward and peed on my leg. It was obvious to us all that I was seriously outnumbered and this was their turf, so I did not object to this. Satisfied that I had been duly notified of my status in the neighborhood, the Great Dane turned away to resume his patrol. The Chihuahua dashed forward and bit me on the ankle. Under other circumstances he would not have dared to do this for I would surely take my revenge on him. But with his crew there to protect him he had a definite edge and he knew it and he was going to by god take advantage of it. He looked back once to gloat as he ran to take his place in the gang. Chihuahua! Scourge of Tucson!

King K9

One evening I went with some friends to visit a new acquaintance of theirs who lived out in the desert. He had adopted a retired police dog named King. King and I immediately hit it off and went for a walk and a game of fetch in the sagebrush. King could chew a stick to splinters in no time. He liked to run after the stick, bring it back, and then fight over possession for a minute before releasing it so I could throw it again. When it was getting close to full dark and we were playing tug of war, King suddenly jumped up and took my forearm in his jaws with a firm grip. I was wearing a canvas jacket so I was undamaged but I had never been arrested by a ninety-pound German Shepherd before so I paused to consider my next move. After ten very long seconds King let go and stepped back with a confused and I swear embarrassed look and then bolted into the sagebrush. About two minutes later he came running back, as playful and friendly as ever. I can only speculate that he ran off because he did not quite trust his own impulses and needed a moment to sort things out. When he came back he seemed determined to carry on as if it never happened, which was fine by me. I could relate. We chased each other through the sage back to the house.

Rogue River

I was hiking down the Rogue River trail from Galice to Gold Beach, Oregon. The weather had been good and I was sleeping in the open with no tent, my bag of food as my pillow. I woke up sometime during the night for no reason I knew of. I looked around and there were two bear cubs walking down the trail. I stayed very still, thinking mama couldn’t be far away, and a few seconds later she came into view,  a good-sized black bear lumbering along behind them in the moonlight. They appeared not to notice me and went on down the trail out of sight. I woke up again a few hours later just before the first pale light of dawn. There were several deer standing around me eating the grass, one almost close enough to touch. They too were unperturbed by my presence or simply didn’t regard me as something out of place. Not food, not a predator, live and let live.

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