The bird dangled in danger. Eight or perhaps even seven of its company clamoured advice in a cacophony of cawing care. But I was not there. Nor could anyone else see sufficiently into my backyard to espy the dilemma. And for that bird, caught up in the moment, there certainly was no possible escape.
It was the summer of 2004. I happened to have arrived into a new world. Like being reincarnated after the nine-plus hours of my spinal surgery, there was also the rebirth toward a coherence of clarity during the last nine days of nauseating delirium. Now, home again, I found myself alert as a newborn to the sounds and sights around me.
But alas for that bird, I was down in my basement studio, oblivious to the world above. Abdullha Ibrahim alternated with Hugh Masekela on the CD carousel. But given time for my medicine I turned off the music, came upstairs, stair by stair, hobbled the corridor to the bedroom, and became aware of the unusually incessant clamour outside.
I glanced through the window.
Ah, magpies. I thought I recognized their squawks. Like small but colourful crows, their very long black tails, stark white underbellies, and darkly shimmering plumage is always attractive. But right then I did not want to watch. There was the matter of pills at the bedside bureau, and the recording of the time, and next of heading for…
Then I heard it! The frantic clawing at the picket fence had the desperate sound of a burglar trying to surmount it.
Alarmed, I peered out.
Finally, off to the left and almost obscured by dense foliage, I saw the desperate thing, caught up in the wooden staves of the picket fence. Others of its clan ganged up in the nearby trees, and busily cawed with all sorts of advice.
Wedged by its skull, the weight of its body having slid it down the finger-width gap between the picket staves for some eight or nine inches before it became hung up on the crossbar, the magpie had no purchase by which to climb up again. And it still pulled and pulled to get free. But even as I watched, it gave up, shuddering with exhaustion.
With the clip-off hood of my winter-parka I approached the bird silently. Its back to me, it could not watch. Its compatriots fell eerily silent, but did not fly off.
The bird still breathed.
I advanced, gently enveloped it in the hood, easily slid it upwards along the slats, then one-handedly unwrapped the cloth and lifted the light-weight toward the sun.
Almost immediately it fluttered up and then off to a perch not five feet from me, and looked back at the scene.
“You’re welcome,” I said, and turned to walk away. And the rest of the magpies resumed their chatter of chattering over the matter. After all, that any one of us should be there at that precise moment, given the thousands of gardens in which the event for that errant bird may have occurred, was pure magic. And the past brings us to the present, this exact present, in which resides the very moment that gives rise to the next. Seems as though we all need to be careful where we land, lest we too be caught up and dangled into immobility, they chattered.
And I recall being grateful for the magic. Ha! So too, I bet, was the magpie!
(This image was taken by friend Justin Neway's webcam in Colorado,
shared with me ten years after the events in this story!)