Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Walking With Benny (#189)

What follows are three excerpts from my Walking With Benny journal written last winter.

At the time I wrote the following passages, I was feeding bread to ice-bound ducks. I subsequently learned this can do more harm than good - even though I only bought the good stuff - multi-grain. The last excerpt was written the day I stopped.


The temperatures are yoyo-ing again. It’s 5C this morning and the several inches of snow of four days ago is now four inches of slush. Walking is a messy, tiring, wet affair and I just might take a pass on this evening’s venture.

Hilary is coming tomorrow and we were hoping to explore a new (to us) conservation area a few miles from here. The trail there is rated “difficult.” I was hoping to try it when the footing didn’t change the rating to “here comes another heart attack.”

The weather people are calling for a slightly cooler temperatures the next couple of days. We’ll see what Thursday brings.

Today brought hungry ducks, about three dozen of them - the number I’d considered normal for most of this winter. Squirrels abounded and there was lots of small bird activity as well. But to tell the truth, I was focused more on getting one more step closer to home.

Speaking of those steps - no - I’d best back up a little bit first.

As anyone familiar with Jack Russell terriers can attest, they have issues. They’re wound a wee bit tighter than most dogs and will “go off” now and then. Usually the going-off simply involves tearing around the house at supersonic speed, bouncing off the furniture all the while furiously mouthing some fuzzy toy or luckless article of clothing.

But sometimes it involves unusual behaviour.

Ben must bite shoveled snow. Every shovelful. When not actively biting the snow as it leaves the shovel, he is actively biting the shovel itself.

He is no longer allowed outside if anyone in the neighbourhood is shoveling snow.

Ben is also distressed by waves. Waves such as one might find at a lake. Ben has to bite each wave as it rolls into his territory. Each and every one.

For hours.

Anyway, so today, a few minutes into our walk, I noticed that Ben was not on point and had not been for the last couple of minutes. The leash was slack and pointed slightly behind me. I peeked and understood immediately.

Each of the steps I was taking with my big, clodhopper winter boots was causing a slight splash in the slush.

Kind of like a wave. Or maybe like a wee shovelful of slush.

Benny was busy biting my wake. And we still had a long way to go. He’d be peeing for a week. (Excessive peeing is the price one pays for eating snow and waves.)

So, periodically, I’d stop. This served two purposes. I could rest briefly (and I needed a few of those this morning) and Ben would get bored with the lack of wave action, start sniffing, and inevitably find something to distract him for a bit.

Nice how things work out sometimes isn’t it?


While at Hilary’s yesterday morning, as we chatted over morning tea, (okay, she chatted - I smiled, nodded and made occasional noises) I noted that the birds seemed especially nervous. Normally, the sparrows didn’t react to every movement we made behind glass doors but this morning they were.

A few minutes later we understood why. Something drew our attention to the rearmost part of her yard. A hawk was standing on the snow, with something grasped in its talons. Hilary grabbed the binoculars and said it was a sparrow. She could see the poor, doomed creature’s beak moving. I said the little bird would be in shock and likely felt no pain. As she went to get her camera and I reached for the binoculars, the hawk left with its prey. I wished the sparrow a swift end as both disappeared.

After consulting the bird book, we tentatively identified the hawk as a Northern Harrier.

We were both, I think, appreciative of being witness to this drama and somewhat guilty in that it was our feeder that kept the sparrows nearby. A further reminder that there’s a consequence to every action and results aren’t always as intended.


On the way back, as Ben and I passed the pond, the ducks began to clamber upon the ice and waddle their way towards us - hopeful intent obvious in every stoic step.

I muttered and thought “No-no. Go back.” and waved them away with my free hand. Even more of them began to climb out of the water to join the waddle brigade.

“Dumb birds!” I thought and picked up my pace towards the cedars and out of their sight.

Then, with sudden clarity, I saw myself as the ducks saw me.

“Thunderfoot wave wing make food fly.”

Okay, I may have the syntax wrong but the meaning is clear. The arm motion of shooing them back looked the same to them as the one I make when throwing food.

Dumb human.


Hilary said...

I love these excerpts. It's going to make a great book when you get it all together. Keep on at it. :)

But.. I chatted? I don't chat at you much, do I? I mean I'm generally not a wordy person. I don't say much. Especially not in the morning. I don't go on and on and on about things. Not me, no. I mean really, you were kidding right? I'm not like that. Not one bit. You kidder!


Maud said...

You tell him, Hilary!!

Frank, I can't wait to read the whole book.

But this thing about the bread ... I still can't quite understand why it should be so bad for birds. Maybe white sliced, but wholegrain? It just seems so natural. Maybe someone will enlighten me.

Jenn Jilks said...

Feeding the ducks bread is like feeding them sugar. It expands in the tummies, too. They worry about aggression and crowding, dependence upon humans for food, lack of fear of humans, and what happens to excess feed as it sinks to the bottom and potentially rots and releases toxins.

They worry about motivation and migration issues, too.

I feed mine , me bad, a bit of cracked corn, which they get in the fields to the south. They fear our us, and run when I come - so they are still afraid.

Bruce Robinson said...

Thanks for the excerpts, Frank. They almost always trigger fond memories which I do not have the discipline to keep to myself.

In January of 2007 I painted the living room a lovely, cool, light blue. We had just had a new bay window installed - triple pane with krypton gas (safe for Superman, you know). The furniture was stacked together in the middle of the room with a blue tarp covering it as protection from paint and dust.

The morning after finishing the ceilings and walls, but before I painted the wooden window frame, my wife heard a noise in the living room. She rushed from her cup of coffeee to find . . .

. . . the new bay window looked like a huge and complex spider web with more than a thousand radials.

First thought was that a newspaper had hit the window. But we don't read the local big city paper.

Next though was that some high-school aged neighborhood tough had thrown something at the window. My wife threw open the front door to get a good look up and down the street. No kids. Not good ones; not bad. But then . . .

On the front porch, there was something unusual. no, not the newspaper. Remember we don't get what we don't pay for. There was a hawk lying on its back, wings spread wide, eyes wide open with pupils dilated to the size of dinner plates.

He probably came out of the west, confused by the reflections of the morning sun off the windows of the houses across the street. bright reflections and light blue must have looked like sky to him. Whatever he was after was not in evidence. Ther was a squirell on the driveway looking at him and chattering his fool head off.

Five hours later the hawk took a short flight to avoid capture by the wizened octagenarian from the animal rescue service. he spent the next three days perched ten feet off the ground in a pine tree next door. On the fourth day he perched on a thity-inch tall fence. I got the pictures to prove it! On the fifth, there was a monster (probably twenty pounds) back and white cat at the base of the tree.

Two weeks later my wife telephoned me at work to tell me thatthe hawk was back. He was sitting on our lawn, four feet from the front porch, eating a bird.

Occassionally we see a hawk circling the area. Less frequently we find small piles of down on the lawn or driveway.

No bread for our feathered friends. The little ones get seeds. The big ones get the little ones.

Gotta go. There is a new flock of robins on the lawn.

Rick Rosenshein said...

Hi Frank,
Nice stories. Thank you for sharing them. I will be back for more. Rick

Stace said...

There are signs up around the lake here asking people not to feed the birds, and explaining why... it actually really bothers me when I see people throwing bread to the swans not ten metres from that sign. Which happens all the time. Grrrr! Good on you for stopping :)

Stace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank Baron said...

You're right Hil. I must have been mistaken. You're the quiet type. ;) Glad you enjoy the stories. :)

Hiya Maud. Jenn came along just in time to give you the info. :)

Hi Jenn. I appreciate you helping Maud out. Thanks for the visit. :)

Bruce, you're a born storyteller. I've had several birds hit my front window but none (thank goodness) big enough to damage it. Thankfully, most escape none the worse for wear. That hawk must have suffered a concussion. Thanks for the visit and the story.

Hi Rick. Glad you enjoyed.

I know it's the right thing to do Stace, but I still feel guilty. Thanks for the visit. :)

Reb said...

I love your Benny stories Frank and I am glad to hear you are not feeding the ducks anymore.

As it is story time....my Uncle had just finished building a new house on the farm, I can't remember if they had moved in yet, but they had to replace the front picture window because of a large bird. The dining room window was situated in such a manner that you could see right through the house.

A friend of mine has the same alignment of windows and picked up a sticker that looks like a spider web with a bug in it...now the birds hit even more frequently trying to catch the bug - lol!

Ash said...

“Thunderfoot wave wing make food fly.”


Leah J. Utas said...

Love the stories.
Echo Reb. Not only did we have to replace the picture window we replaced one in the dining room too a few months later, both courtesy of partridges.

Eternal Free Spirit said...

Wow I am a nature lover and all but I never realized how bad feeding ducks and birds bread actually is!!

From now on I'll be feeding them bird seed (I keep a feeder outside but ducks can't get to that =-P) NOT bread!!!

Thanks for the insights and anecdotes Frank. I especially like the last one. Of course us humans shooing the ducks away would look just like it does when we toss them food. I'm wondering why I didn't realize this myself...or why more people don't =-P

Frank Baron said...

Happy you enjoyed Reb. Thanks for the visit and your story. :)

Ash, funny but true. I think. :)

Yikes Leah. That can be darn costly. Glad you like the Benny tales.

EFS, I feed other birds too, at home and in the wild (during winter). I feel badly for the ducks when the weather is especially bad. If there's a prolonged very cold spell, I think I can get an approved formula for short-term feeding. We're into a mildish spell now though that I hope lasts. Thanks for the visit. :)

Barbara Martin said...

The mallards live year round in Toronto, along the lakeshore, creeks, rivers and ponds. I feed the mallards in the neighbourhood near Lake Ontario: but the food is leavings from my own birds' (4 lovebirds and 2 senegals) rations. The stuff they don't eat daily which consists of different types of seed, dried fruit, various pieces of nuts and tiny concentrated pellets. By the end of the week I have a small bag, and on the way to the grocery store there's a park where the mallards, pigeons and squirrels (when not hiberating) congregate where I spread the stash around.

Your journal story was wonderful to read, and sometimes I feel dumb, too, when I realize how the bird or animal sees us. Your dog must give you those exasperated looks whenever you've done something he feels is outrageous.

CrazyCath said...

Hi Frank, Just popping over on a rare visit (rare these days). I wish I could get over more often - I love how you write.
Had me smiling all the way. I had a Jack Russell cross once - Duke (pronounced Dook like the American way!) He had to bite balloons. Any balloons, all balloons until all were popped.

Putting them "out of reach" on top of a fridge freezer was NOT a good idea...

Anonymous said...

The last one really got me! Too funny. A mistake any of us could easily make.

The birds~ I had a cat that hunted daily. All my bird feeders went away...Then the cat disappeared...Coyotes, we think.

Frank Baron said...

Barbara, I think Ben and I are about 50-50 in the giving-ourselves-exasperated-looks department. :)

Hiya Cath. Nice to see you and thanks for the compliment. :) Yeah, those JRTs are nothing if not determined. And they can jump like an NBA-er.

Meredith, Nature has a way of evening things out doesn't She? Thanks for the visit. :)

Big Plain V said...

Great stuff, Frank. I always enjoy sharing these walks with you and Benny.

Frank Baron said...

Glad you enjoyed Ray. Thanks for letting me know. :)

Carmi said...

Hi Frank. Thank you for your very kind comment on Hilary's blog. It was indeed a fascinating set of circumstances that resulted in us converging on that spot, and I look forward to actually meeting la gang sometime soon.

We rescued a miniature schnauzer a couple of winters ago. They seem to have similar behavioural "issues" that, frankly, make them even more endearing. I just love a dog with a little attitude.

Speaking of dogs, mine's lying on my foot. And I can no longer feel my toes. Time to move.

Speak soon...so very nice to e-meet you!

Frank Baron said...

Ditto Carmi, and I look forward to meeting in meatspace as well. You're right about animals with attitude - they can be maddening but endearing.