Monthly Archives: October 2012

De Düva (The Dove)

Back in 1977 a dear friend called me and instructed me quickly to turn on PBS, as they were about to air a short film in mock-Swedish, à la Bergman. It was called “De Düva,” or “The Dove” and promised to be hilarious. It was, if you’re into that sort of thing. (Think ‘The Swedish Chef’ on The Muppet Show.)

I had been thinking about that short film recently, and there by the grace of god and Youtube, I found it on line. After my paroxysms of laughter subsided from seeing it again after all these years, I got to thinking about my own “Düva” experience.

Our small terrace overlooked the grounds of The Morgan Library, a well kept green space with lots of trees that gave shelter and homes to a passel of small birds. Among those were house finches, whose morning songs were a delight in the otherwise cacophony that is Midtown Manhattan.

The terrace wall, before (and after) “Dove Madness”

Fall was approaching and the thought of all those small, frail creatures having to fend for themselves through the coming winter made me decide to invest in a couple of bird feeders to hang from the roof of the terrace.

We were between cats then. I wouldn’t have hung bird feeders with a cat in the house.

Bought and paid for, the pair of bird feeders held promise of many hours of bird watching and listening. I hung the feeders, filled them, and then waited for the finches to discover them.

And waited. Days. A couple of weeks. More. Now it’s nearly full-on winter.

One morning I looked out to see if there were any finches and spied instead one lonely mourning dove crouched on the floor of the terrace. I was elated, as I had heard the doves calling just about every morning, but hadn’t seen them. The very first time I heard the call of a mourning dove was while on an idyllic vacation on the island of St. John in the Caribbean. Now, years later, their melancholy sounds always reminded me of that visit. I wasn’t sure what drew this dove to our terrace, but I watched it carefully, so as not to scare it away, and listened with nostalgia as it called out.

Still no finches, though. It dawned on me they might not be coming around because we humans were still actively using the terrace despite it being fall, so I took the feeders down from their hooks and strapped them onto the outer ledge of the terrace floor, outside the railing, hoping to make the feeders easier for the birds to see and giving them some privacy by shielding us somewhat from their view.

One cold morning days later, while waiting for my green tea with honey and ginseng to cool enough so I could drink it, I looked out at the terrace and noticed that the finches had finally found the feeders. There were close to a half-dozen of them, males with their bright red bellies and drab, brown females. Wondering idly as I watched, I tried to see if I could pick out obvious pairs, couples, as if married or at least betrothed. They were a joy to watch and listen to, and through all their flitting here and there from feeder to feeder, to the terrace railing and back, there was no hint of aggression in their behavior. They were good little finches all getting along so nicely! Within a few days, sparrows joined them from time to time — man, they were skittish in comparison to the finches! — and even a black-capped chickadee showed up on occasion.

This visual and aural treat recurred many a morning, with me delighting in my decision to provide food for these guys.

One day, though, a dove had returned: I barely missed it on a corner of the outer ledge pecking away at seeds that had spilled from the feeders. “Oh, how great,” I thought. So I’m feeding two birds with one seed (so to speak): the finches and the dove!

Two days later there were two doves out there, quietly and quite happily feeding on seeds that had spilled. I wasn’t able to discern much of a difference in the appearance of these two, but I imagined one was a female and the other her mate, and I figured them for a couple. In the back of my mind I held that doves mate for life (I don’t know if it’s true; I think I just wanted it to be: the concept of them maybe after a fateful event in their lives “mourning” the loss of a mate, remaining widowed forever, and calling out plaintively evermore.) Anyway, they were birds too, God’s little creatures who will procreate and bring hungry young ones into the world, just as the finches, so they needed to be cared for.

The next day, however, I wondered at the wisdom of my rationale. (And sadly, I realized I was forgetting about Matthew 6:26: “Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”) Although I still think they’re lovely and I like their call, when I looked out there were no fewer than six doves, all squawking and flapping and chasing and pecking at one another, generally making a ruckus. They weren’t acting very bird-like at all, not in my estimation. And I soon realized the finches were staying away now, probably because of all the avian aggression that these bullies were engaging in.

Worse, I had this feeling that if they kept this up, it wouldn’t be long before the pigeons caught wind of the noise and commotion and realized there was food to be had here. Pigeons I don’t want! Even though, yes, they’re God’s little creatures just as much as the finches and the doves, blah blah blah, they POOP much larger and they generally seem dirtier, and they carry diseases. There’s a reason they’re called flying rats, and in this city it’s even illegal to feed them!

It had become too easy for these ruffian doves to feed from what were essentially silos spilling endless seed onto the ledge, and thinking that doves were ground feeders, I decided to reposition the feeders once again, bringing them back in and hanging them from the ceiling. I swept up all the loose seed from the ledge, to discourage the doves from returning. (By the way, their poop was no joy to behold or clean up, either.)

Soon the finches returned and at least the littl’uns were eating again now. I was pretty sure I had solved the problem.

There were lots of doves flying around outside, but they weren’t stopping, so I guessed they had finally given up on feasting there. I felt bad about that, but I couldn’t take the chance on pigeons coming: I could get arrested! (–“What are you in for?” –“Feeding pigeons.” –“You gotta be kidding me? Are you crazy? Feeding pigeons? You are a madman!“) A small dilemma and I decided I should just make peace with myself, and accept the fact that the finches would be fat and happy, and the doves would have to fend for themselves.

Sometimes a self-solving dilemma isn’t a good thing. It wasn’t long before the doves figured out how to hang from the feeders, sometimes upside down, even, and have a good meal. Plus, being so sloppy, they caused so many seeds to fall on the terrace floor that other doves came along and chowed down leisurely on those that dropped.

I was disgusted by all the damn dove doodoo and the feathers and the mess of seeds and hulls they left everywhere. Apparently there were these dove gangs and they fought one another for the territory. I saw them land in fours or so and terrorize the one or two that might already be hanging out contemplating a meal. Too, the feeders were emptying out every other day, which would normally occur only once a week or so with just little peepers feeding from them.

I had taken to chasing the doves away whenever I saw them and I was just afraid that I might have done irreparable damage to the sense of security that the tiny little finches had finally acquired. Why, before this madness, I could even, on occasion, be sitting out on the terrace and the finches would approach, land, eyeball me, see that I wasn’t about to move or chase them, and then set about eating happily. The few that were showing up lately had become quite skittish.

In an effort to discourage the doves I had progressed from clapping my hands loudly (worked at first, before redness and pain set in), to yelling (worked after that for a while), to yelling and waving my arms simultaneously while bursting forth onto the terrace (think: raving lunatic.)

I looked for the squirt gun (yes, we had one somewhere) but couldn’t find it, and decided that having two hardcover books or blocks of wood ever at the ready to clap together to make a really scary sound wasn’t practical, so I thought about applying for a shotgun license. I was just afraid that I’d forget to open the window or the door, and blast half the wall out. And I didn’t really want to hurt them, I just wanted to discourage them from coming back here.

Not having found the squirt gun, I dug out my plant mister bottle and turned the nozzle to a ‘jet’ setting, so I could give them a good, discouraging squirt the next time they appeared. Of course, there was always the possibility they’d love this, as by now a precocious spring had turned the weather warm and dry. I thought of filling the bottle with something nasty and someone suggested bleach, but again, I don’t want to harm them, and about the only thing I could come up with that would be repulsive enough without hurting them would be pee, and, no, I just can’t bring myself to do that. (Not even thinking, was I, about having to deal with cleaning up the pee?) (Drat.)

An ingenious (or do I mean “ungenious”?) idea came to me! I had a bail of picture wire somewhere. Using that, I would construct an elaborate maze of baffles on each feeder! They would be constructed in such a way as to bar a large bird from getting at the seed, while the smaller ones could simply pass through them! An hour or two wrapping, bending and winding this wire showed great promise. Over the next few days adjustments were needed, of course, but at last I felt I had accomplished the goal.

I hadn’t. The baffles I spent hours constructing seemed to be doing the job reasonably well, but the finches still managed to drop a fair number of seeds too, these then being sought after by the doves, in their element, on the floor.

Then the doves even learned to hang quite comfortably from relatively small parts of the feeders, even using the wire baffles themselves! An ultimate insult in this battle of bird brain vs. human brain. I even saw one of them pulling seeds very aggressively from the feeder holes as if to scatter more seeds on the floor, making it easier for the rest of his gang to eat in comfort.

I was spending an inordinate amount of time cleaning off (read: sweeping up, washing down with pine-scented disinfectant and mopping up) the terrace and the railing, which the doves also bepooped and damn it, I didn’t want to have to go through that every three or four days.

*  *  *

I’m afraid you’re going to read about me in the local paper one of these days, or you’ll hear about me on the evening news. It seems the neighbors have seen and heard me too often as I explode from the doorway, screaming at the top of my lungs, wildly waving my arms while at the same time trying to aim the two squirt bottles at those big ugly brown soilers of everything I hold sacred on the terrace. The courtyard out back isn’t all that small, so the nearest adjoining terraces are pretty far away (Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” gives a fair idea of the setup) but apparently my activities were noticeable enough that even the lady on the 15th-floor terrace across Madison Avenue shrinks in fright whenever I appear.

My blood pressure was rising from all this; I wasn’t sleeping at night, both from imagining that the dove calls I heard were coming from the terrace and from trying to think of ways to perfect the wire baffles (electrify them?) or somehow devise a motion-sensor-driven sprinkler that would activate when a being larger than a finch appeared, but would otherwise remain inactive (but then how would I be able to enjoy the terrace…) and the roiling of my mind kept me awake for days.

Finally the solution came to me: take down the feeders, do one last super-clean of the terrace floor, railing and ledge, and leave the Big Guy upstairs in charge.

Trying to forget about all the madness wasn’t easy, as the cheery little finches still came by, having been trained to show up there for food but ending up only disappointed. There was this one male who I recognized through all this (they really do have distinct personalities and looks) who would come to the railing and sing for ten minutes before looking for something to eat.

And the solution to that turned out to be getting another cat. Eventually the birds stopped coming by, and my daily terrace-cleaning routine was at last reduced to just scooping out the litter box once a day.

For lovers of mock-Swedish: “De Düva” (14 minutes. It’s subtitled but doesn’t really need to be!)

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Twiggy the Terrifying

Vlad the Impaler

Those of you who think John’s “Dahka” was a mean little kitty obviously never met Twiggy the Terrifying. Dahka was a scrawny, screechy little thing, but Twiggy was a hellcat. If Vlad the Impaler had a pussycat pet, it would have been a cat like T the T. (I will refrain from calling T’s name a third time, for fear of summoning him from the depths where he surely resides now, stoking fires and impaling sinners on his claws.)

T the T arrived at our house very young, very skinny and very amorphous, gender-wise. Initially and to outward appearances a sweet little thing and probably female, he was named Twiggy, the reference being to the actress-model of the time, an impossibly skinny but popular Brit who more or less heralded the British Pop Invasion.

T did grow and eventually filled out a little, and at some point along the way it became obvious that “she” was really a “he,” probably about the time “he” realized he was named after a skinny little “girl,” and “he” developed his ornery character in response. (“Boy Named ‘Sue’ Syndrome.”) Like other cats, he liked to ensconce himself in dark, hidden places, but where most other cats do so merely for privacy and for the purpose of napping between meals, T did so for the purpose of ambushing any unsuspecting ankle that happened by.

T also did that cat thing where he lay on his back under the sofa and using his claws on the underliner he would drag himself around upside-down from one end to the other. I imagine that felt good in a number of ways, not the least of which was that his back got a good, invigorating rub from the carpet and his legs got a good deal of exercise. There were times, however, when, if you took notice of his expression while he did this, you wondered if that insane look on his face was the result of his just being upside-down or if he really was stark raving mad.

Savagely biting ankles was the least of his terrifying behaviors, though. He frequently chased dogs out of our backyard (no leash laws then) and on one occasion he nearly took down a toddler who happened to be passing by on the sidewalk (no fears for eight-year-olds to be walking alone in those days, either.)

T the T and I were standing at the top of our driveway when this unsuspecting waif dared to try walking by our house. I watched in horror as T, rearing up on his hind legs, began a frightening, growling war cry, and lunging forward, waving his forepaws wildly over his head, he ran down the driveway, upright, on his back legs. I’m not sure who was more frightened: the poor child (who screeched, ran off and who was undoubtedly never seen again) or I.

Still, that was not the height of T’s scourge on us. He came home one day badly scraped from an encounter with some critter or other, most likely something bigger than he, (we speculated it might have been a rhinoceros or a T-Rex, although there weren’t many of those in suburban Newton, Massachusetts) and he needed medical attention.

I’m not sure how it came to be that my dear brother-in-law Dan got to be the lucky one to take T to the vet, but so it was, and Dan, brave as ever, managed somehow to get T into a cardboard box (the safest and likely the only way to transport T safely) and into the trunk of his car, and they headed off to the Angell Animal Medical Center to get T’s wounds attended to.

Wanting to avoid any unfortunate, unsuspecting encounters by strangers who might open the enclosed box (carrying the now even more enraged than usual T) Dan took a magic marker and wrote clear warnings on each side of the box. “DANGEROUS ANIMAL” and “DO NOT OPEN – ANGRY ANIMAL ENCLOSED” and, simply, “DANGER!” and the like.

When they arrived at the vet, Dan opened the trunk of his car and, as he stooped down to pick up the carton, his pants split down the rear seam; he was wide open to the world.

Now what? How to get the carton (which only now seemed to be much larger than it needed to be, the result being it was really unwieldy, especially for someone who also needed to camouflage or shield his exposed parts) into the waiting room.

A youngster hanging about nearby offered a possible solution, and quick-thinking Dan called him over. Offering him five dollars, he asked the kid if he would carry the carton into the hospital. Wise for his young age and appropriately suspicious, the kid surveyed the carton, his eyes widening more with each reading of the various warnings plastered on the sides, and he eventually asked warily “What’s in there!?”

Dan could only answer, in truth, but meekly nevertheless, “A cat.”

Incredulity finally led to belief: with the explanation of why his help was being enlisted, the youngster, whose eyes had returned to normal size, agreed to carry the carton and made away happily with the $5 after completing his task.

T the T has long since met his maker (to his maker’s chagrin, no doubt) but his legacy lived on in our household for a long time. Note: We did have to sell that sofa and move away to rid ourselves of the Twiggy stigma, but we finally regained our peace of mind.

Gardenias and I

There have been many cats along the way, from our first, Gardenias the Gentle, another gender-bent cat (another male who was also mistakenly given a girl’s name because of a “sexing error.”) Gardenias was a gem who opened our world — mine, my sister’s and brother’s — to the care and feeding of a live pet. Unlike T, Gardenias never seemed to mind his name.

And many years later we’re graced with the presence of Ketzl the King, who cares for us deeply now, and who proves it by walking all over us while we try to sleep.

Ketzl the King

T the T gave us a lot of grief while he was alive. In death, he provides a reason for me to behave, to be good: to be worthy and to do good deeds. Hell wasn’t all that much of a threat to me before T arrived. Now, however, I strive for upright holiness, as there’s no way in … well, hell … I would take the chance of having to spend eternity with him there.


October 10, 2012 · 6:02 pm