Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Four and Twnety Blackbirds, Baked in a Pie

I have a weird thing about songbirds.  Specifically, I hate them.  There…I said it.  Phew. 

You’re not shocked, are you?  I can understand.  I am the kind of person who has “a weird thing” about any number of things, and you are understandably not shocked to find out that one of my weird things is about birds.  Well, I am sorry to disappoint you further, because the reason for my “weird thing about birds” is utterly mundane.

They are so. Damn. LOUD.

When my husband was in medical school he lived in a house in Indianapolis that was known amongst our friends as the Viking Beer Hall.  The owner of the house had seemed to go to great lengths to instill a sense of medieval frivolity in the place.  Wood paneling everywhere.  Wall scones shaped like dripping candles.  Tiny windows highly placed along the wall to minimize the risk of crossbow attack from the neighbors.  Rolling and pitched wooden floor that gave one the effect of walking on a Viking longship after a few horns of ale whenever you attempted to cross the living room.  A basement that could give any castle or mead hall’s torture chamber a run for its money.  All in all, an interesting place.

Whenever I would drive down to Indianapolis to visit Don for a weekend, I would have to prepare myself for any number of trails at the VBH.  I frequently brought my own cleaning supplies, and would give the one, tiny bathroom a thorough scrubbing with the most caustic cleaners I could find before attempting to use it.  Usually this would require a mask and me sitting outside with my inhaler for two hours afterwards trying to stop the burning in my lungs because of the lack of any ventilation whatsoever in that tiny hellhole of mildew and whatever else it was in that shower I don’t want to think about it anymore.  Some people just have different threshold levels for cleaning.  OK, it’s fine.  No it was seriously gross, but whatever.

By far the biggest issue I encountered when visiting Don was the colony of sparrows that lived in a giant vine on the wall of the house next door, a mere four feet from his window.  A window that was usually open, because Don is one of those people who likes to sleep with his window open until the threat of frostbite exists.  And then he closes the window but still doesn’t turn the heat on.  It’s sick.  I like to sleep with the window closed, but I never really knew why until the Spring of 2008.  When the birds came back north.  And every sparrow in Indiana came to live in the vine next to his bedroom window.  And they all started singing at 3am.

Suffice it to say I am a very light sleeper.  If our dog is having a restless night I can hear him turning around in his kennel downstairs and it wakes me up.  I have vivid, and anxiety filled memories of the first sparrow chirping every morning and the mental battle that would ensue:

Oh God, they’re starting already.  What the hell time is it?  The sun isn’t even coming up for 3 hours what do they want?!  Maybe it was just that one…damn it.  They’re all up now.  OK maybe I can do it this time.  They are melodious songbirds!  Just close my eyes, breathe evenly, they will lull me to sleep with their sweet trilling…fucking evil ratty brow plague monsters!!  Shut up shut up shut up I will kill you all and pluck you and make your little worthless breasts into a stew!  I will roast you and eat you whole, singing beak and all!  I hate you, you colony of hell spawned vermin!

Eventually, after an hour or so of stewing in my own, unnecessarily hateful juices, I would get up and quietly close the window.  Why the hell didn’t you just close the window in the first place?  Clever question.  I will explain.  When I closed the window, then I have to do one of two things.  I have to turn on the overhead fan or turn on the little fan on the bookshelf.  Because if I close the window and don’t turn on the fan, and the temperature in the room raises one degree, Don will sense the minute temperature increase, and begin thrashing about and shedding sheets and blankets and sweating.  And when he wakes up two hours later he will say he didn’t sleep well because it was too hot, and why were the windows closed?  And I just don’t want to deal with that. 

OK, fine, you are a wuss, so just turn on the fans then.  Good suggestion, my friend.  But which one?  The overhead fan, duh, it will cool the room the fastest and most efficiently.  Oh ok…but hey, do you remember if the light was on when we turned the switch off last night?  Or was the light off and the fan on?  I don’t remember.  So if I turn on that switch, and the light is on, then I have a desperate scramble onto the bed, probably on top of Don, to pull the chain that turns the light off while keeping the fan on, and definitely waking Don up in the process.  OK so the little fan.  OK fine, the little fan.  Which is poised so it blows directly onto the bed, wrapping Don in a lovingly cool vortex of air.  And wrapping me in a hateful frigid vortex of air, where I will lie, awake and shivering, for the next two hours.

I know I know, it’s a desperately first world problem I am facing here, and it doesn’t really matter at all.  I am just saying its complicated, and there are some almost convincing and not crazy reasons why I hate songbirds.  They wake me up.  They make me cold.  They reveal to the outside world my true inner craziness.  And when our daughter Lucy was first born, they became a symbol of parental defeat for me, and my hatred ascended to a new level.

New parents don’t sleep much, everyone knows this.  But when one of the new parents is a medical resident, who doesn’t sleep much anyways, that level of sleep deprivation increases  exponentially for both parents.  I would try and stay up or get up with Lucy more to protect Don’s sleep, because I felt it was more important for him to sleep than for me.  All I had to do all day was keep infant Lucy alive and feed her.  Don had to save people’s lives and make split second decisions that really mattered.  Also I was nursing Lucy, so the chances that she was awake because she was hungry were pretty large, and Don couldn’t really help in that department.  If he got up and gave her a bottle, well I was just going to have to get up to pump soon anyway, so he wouldn’t be helping me sleep really.  So I’ll just get up.  And, lets be honest, I was so wound up and anxious that I could hear every breath she took even in my sleep.  So when she woke up, I was usually awake anyway.  Thinking crazy thoughts about birds.

It was this new level of sleep deprivation that elevated the song birds in our Rochester, MN neighborhood from the level of annoying hell spawn to truly evil servants of the dark lord.  There I was, nursing Lucy at 3am or, having just nursed her, trying to put her back to sleep in her crib or swing or bouncy chair or anywhere really so that I could climb back into my bed and get some sleep.  And the first bird of the morning would sing.  It would sing a song that went something like this.

            I know you wanted to sleep tonight, but that isn’t in the cards for you my dear.  It’s morning now.  A new day has dawned.  It’s time to get up.  No sleeping for you tonight.  It may still be dark outside, but not for long.  The sun will rise and you will not have slept.  You failed!

I know, I know.  That is extra crazy.  But all new parents are a little bit crazy, and ones who already hate birds have a little bonus dose of crazy anyway, so what did you expect?

Every birdsong in the morning was a symbol of defeat to me.  When I heard that first song, my body would literally flood with stress hormones, my stomach would roil, I would tear up and think about how tired I was and how tired I was going to be for, literally, forever, and how I was never going to sleep again.  Ever.  And on top of that I was a terrible mother, because the birds were signaling the end of the night and Lucy hadn’t slept enough yet, or it had taken too long to put her back down, or she had broken out of her swaddle again.  Every time a bird sang I would be filled with negativity.

I would channel all of that gross badness into hating the bird.  Which, really, was probably not a bad place for those feelings to go when I couldn’t logically think them through.  At least they weren’t going towards Don or Lucy.  Much.

Every sparrow I saw got a death gaze.  Every cardinal was an affront.  Every red winged blackbird was the devils own messenger.  Really, the only thing that saved every songbird in my immediate area from being poisoned or trapped and eaten was my father-in-laws persistent love of songbirds.  It is my love and respect for Don’s Dad, a man who once did not use his front door for a year when a family of purple martins built a nest on it, which has kept the songbirds of south eastern Minnesota alive these last three years.  Albeit they rarely use their front door anyway, but it is the principle of the thing!

So the sweet swallows and sparrows and doves get a reprieve….for now.  It is well enough into summer that I have turned on the air conditioning, this eradicating the window open at night procedure in our house….for now. 

All I can say is that the song birds of Indiana better watch out.  I know the eaves of our new house look welcoming, but I warn you.  Come fall, when the air turns crisp and the promise of hearing the Notre Dame band practicing in the evening or catching the scent of fall leaves on the air seduces Don into leaving the windows open again, you better watch out.  Because I have been looking up recipes for roasted Ortolan’s lately, and it may be against the law in France right now, but this is America!

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