Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer of the Birds

While walking under a shady path at Logan's annual Summerfest Festival, a blob of something wet fell from a tree branch overhead and landed in my hair. It was a fine hit.
I saw the culprit flit away gleefully, twittering, nonchalant. It was a robin-- or maybe a swallow. I was too busy rubbing bird poop off my head to get a good look. My first thought on seeing the bird was, "I wonder if it has a nest...?"
I began taking cautious and measured steps toward the car, and glanced down at the small, white, glutinous mass on the tissue. It seemed innocent enough, but the lump triggered a series of memories, most of which had to do with my animal-loving sister, Shirsti.
The spring of 1999 found me in a fever. A perpetual bird flu, if you will-- except it's not at all what you're thinking. The highly contagious sickness was inflicted by Shirsti, who had been trying all her life to catch and tame a wild bird. She was extremely astute at finding baby birds, and under her guidance we ravaged the yard searching for nests, eggs,  chicks, and wounded black-bellied Plovers. We climbed trees and trespassed into neighbors yards. We scouted rooftops and ridgepoles. We wanted a pet bird, and by golly we were going to get one, even if it meant stealing it-- which was precisely what we did.
Working as stealthy partners in crime, on a whim we decided to take two smooth, gray-spotted Sparrow eggs from a neighbor's tree. One for her, one for myself. Hardly able to contain our excitement, we placed them under an aquarium light and waited for the chicks to emerge. Several days later, we returned to the same nest and stole a baby bird, as the mother Sparrow seemed to do a much better job at keeping her eggs warm than we did.
Only an inch long, the thing was bald and pink, with popping eyes and little tufts of gray fuzz sticking out of the sides of its head. I christened it Zinny (because of Sharon Creech's Chasing Redbird) and together Shirsti and I took turns feeding it throughout the day and night. Two days later, Zinny's head went limp and lolled to one side. I was filled with unspeakable horror. We mourned quietly for several minutes before we determined to steal a more mature baby bird from a Robin's nest in our pine tree.
Our yard, our birds.
We took the ladder from the garage and Shirsti climbed to the top, rustled around in the needles for a minute, and emerged with a tiny, fuzzy Robin with clear black eyes and a very disapproving expression on its face. For some unexplainable reason, the honor of naming the bird fell on me again and I called it Squeakers (because of the Wild Hearts Humane Society series I was reading). We told our mother the cat had knocked down the nest. As we very well knew, our mother couldn't say no to a needy soul, and so we were allowed to keep the little bird.
Squeakers was our first, and only, success story. Through the involvement of everyone in our family, we were able to adequately take care of the little Robin and, because of our mother's wishes, release her back into the wild. It was a supremely stressful process, and one that merited me many tardies in the fifth grade, which was just as well. Shirsti and I bonded over the ordeal, and I spent a good month of the summer sleeping on her floor next to the bird cage.
Ah, Shirsti. I thought to myself as I slowly shampooed my hair. I thought about how we also searched for wild cats, tried to tame squirrels, and bred hundreds of guppies in a twenty-gallon tank. She is the only one who has known my secret dream of finding an orphaned fawn in my backyard, or nursing a premature kitten with a bottle. I thought about how she had to bend the rules to keep Abilene, my pet bunny. We are the bleeding hearts of our family, our sweaters matted in fur, fostering wounded animals in secret. With bird poop in our hair, we come together to tame the world, one baby bird at a time.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Happy Birthday

I grew up with an uncanny resemblance to my sister, Koseli. In order to distinguish my individual personality in seventh grade, I dyed my hair with henna. The result yielded hair roughly the color of beet juice. For different and otherwise unknown reasons, Koseli was doing similar-- if less dramatic-- things to her own hair, and so we really weren't ever that different at all. We were the orange-hair twins, the Henna sisters; our faces were round, and our teeth full of braces. We were practically interchangeable until I hit a growth spurt and sprouted six inches in less than a year. Stand us in a police line-up and a witness could easily tell us apart-- I'm the huge one, she's the tiny one. Take photos of our faces and recordings of our voices, however, and anyone would be hard-pressed to discriminate. When talking to her on the phone, I often mistake echoes of my own voice for hers and demand to know why she's mocking me. In also talking to her on the phone, I mistake her real voice for an echo and yell loudly into the receiver, "Hello? Hello?" to which she responds in a similar fashion and we're both equally confused.
"Am I you, or are you me?"
I'm not her identical twin exactly, just her identical twin delayed by three, solid years. If I need to look into my future, I need only gaze as far as Koseli has been, and I can, mistily, see myself in the distance.
Despite all these similarities, we're more different than anyone can see from old family photos. She is the next Sharon Creech, Martha Stewart, Editor-in-Chief, and whatever else in the world she wants to be because she is KOSELI--the one-and-only-- and there is no one else in the world like her.
Except me.
Happy birthday to my intelligent, beautiful, and always sweet older sister.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


You'll forgive me.

Despite my dabbling in the beautiful, my feverish fascination with the pretty, and a real, definite love for perfume, I relish in the disgusting.
Oh yes. It's true.

Playing in mud holes and irrigation ditches as a child is no rare thing, but the satisfaction of squeezing a pustule or clipping toenails, for me, has not lessened with age.

From some unknown irritation, when Louie was in middle school, her ears started to produce a surplus of earwax. Perhaps it wasn't all earwax-- it could have been skin-- either way, great yellow flakes the size of my pinky toenail were coming out of her ears and it excited me. Waiting with eager anticipation, I took to skulking around corners, armed with a handful of Q-tips, hoping to persuade her to let me clean her ears. More often than not she didn't, so instead I resigned myself to eyeing her beadily as she cleaned them herself, hovering uncomfortably close and shouting frantically, "Deeper! I can see some deeper!" if I fancied she'd missed a spot.
On the rare occasion when my exhortations worked I came away triumphant, curiously studying the fragile earwax-flakes perched precariously on the top of my Q-tip, and then reluctantly throwing them into the garbage when I finished.

Having never suffered from allergies myself, I was surprised months later when this same child came home from the eye doctor announcing her blurry vision had been caused by an excess of mucus under her eyelids.
Such unfortunate circumstances but such delightful grossness!
"The eye doctor lifted up my eyelid...he rolled the Q-tip underneath and the mucus started rolling off in a big, long string!" she told me.
She expressed embarrassment when the eye doctor had accidentally exclaimed his surprise at the great excess of mucus residing thickly under her eyelid, and also at the fact that the mucus continued to wind around and around the cotton without apparent end.
I was enthralled.
After coming down with a bad head cold several years later, I noticed my vision was a little obscured. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I hardly dared to hope. Cautiously I raised my eyelid and slid the Q-tip across the edge. It came away wet and shiny.
At last!

Yesterday, when Bart told me he had popped an impossibly enormous zit on his back, my immediate response was,
"I missed it?!?"
To make the situation even worse, Bart went on to explain that not only had the zit yielded a substantial amount of pus, but it was also a large blackhead-- roughly the size of a sewing pin head. He had to pick through three scabs before he got to the core. He mentioned that the process was supremely disgusting, but he regretted to have gone through it without me, knowing full well I would have enjoyed it.
And it's true. I would have.
Little has changed.

And so, beneath my love of beautiful things, there is a deep and very real part of me that would gladly clean your ears, your toenails, or the mucus under your eyelids.
All I need is permission and a hand full of Q-tips.