By Brett Warnke / OB Rag
The park’s gates had been ripped down and rebuilt, higher and fiercer than he had seen in the year he had lived near the coast. Barbed wire had been looped in a crown around the fence’s top and iron doors installed at either entrance. The nest had fallen and lay in the park beneath a tree thirty feet from the new fence.
On his daily morning walks he looked inside the park, before and after the fence’s reconstruction. The flat green grass of the park appeared so different than the faded winter brown of trees in a California city.
In the evenings, walking by the fence, he looked in the park out of habit after completing his part-time shift at the library near the border-crossing. However, the nest, a ratty gathering of dead grass, straw, and tangled stems and fibers, had fallen. It held a single gray chick, screaming. He did not know what kind of bird but even in the diminishing light, he saw the chick, plaintive and alone, in the fallen nest.
The scene stopped him. It felt strange to him that he had stopped. Not a moment before his mind had been on some other matter. And there he stood, still and delayed, gazing through a tall fence. What did someone, as indifferent as him to the natural world, know of birds? He had only recently begun long walks because he believed them restorative. And they relieved the loneliness he felt in the deepening solitude of his middle age.
He often read old writers like Robert Boyle on his break, meditating in the countryside through the horrors of a civil war, “When we journey through the secrets of nature, when we treat divine matters, the mind must be treated from its evils and continually strengthened.” Had he ever taken even a moment of those daily walks, considering Boyle, his rising rent, or a great many topics, to see into the branches? Had he seen the chick’s mother piecing together her nest, searching for food or fending off the park’s gardeners and predators alike?
The fallen nest lay before him, an inconvenience. But there it lay. Two crows clutched the barbed wire high above his head.
The ubiquity of crows in Southern California had always struck him as strange. A region renowned for its mildness and beauty possessed, he thought, in his recent arrival to the place, an abundance of crows. In his pleasant walks to work he had seen the black birds in busy alleyways, perched on metal cranes, with their talons hooked around the drooping electric wires connecting each new home to the home beside it.
He had once read about crows in encyclopedias, how Plutarch’s clever crow had dropped stones in a pail when the water was too low to drink. Also, how the birds’ population rose with the increase in human population along California’s coasts.
Wily, opportunistic, intelligent, and bent on survival, “murders” of crows could caw and drop to feed in local gardens. Crows in the rapidly developing areas could clean out a small closed park or field strewn with fresh seeds, whatever the intention of clog-wearing gardeners or local administration. And, after all, how could a crow be stopped from doing what the deep call of instinct wills a bird to do?
He looked up at the black birds. They bobbed on the wires, silhouettes in the fading light above the terrified chick. He did not want, in his future walks, to need to recall his abandonment of this nest or what came after. After all, the park office was only a short walk further. He would think of nothing but his humiliation, his shame, the next morning if he did not do something.
The split door of the small office remained half-open. The elderly attendant, wearing keys on his waist, had prepared the cluttered room for his nightly departure.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but there is a fallen nest,” he said. “You see, the nest, whether by the sea wind or some accident—perhaps even a predator—has fallen and there’s a chick inside it, the nest. And, well, I would like you to retrieve it.”
“Closing time,” the attendant said, whistling a bit through bucked teeth. He tapped his cheap watch, staring at it like Alice’s rabbit. “Time to close.”
“Yes, I understand. But there are crows now.”
“Crows?” the attendant said.
“Yes, many crows. And when darkness falls, well—I fear the chick will be harmed.”
“Sir, I understand. A chick. Crows. But it is closing time.” The old man’s melancholy voice did not rise in anger or frustration but emitted each word in a sigh of world-weariness.
“I walk by this park everyday. I avoid the border traffic on the highway by taking your path to my little apartment, right over there. You see, my apartment is nearby. This is our community park. I live here now. I’m telling you, this chick has no chance after nightfall.”
A dusky orange light glowed through a bent metal blind in the stuffy office.
“Nature is a pretty terrible place, sir,” the old man said. “Whether we run all over the field or not, we can’t touch a nest. I don’t have a way to get it back into the tree before sunset. And, honestly, there’s a thousand chicks in nests all over this city that have crows picking at them.”
“Sir,” he said. “This is not a crow stripping wool off the back of a sheep. This is something different. This is death. This is preventable pain. This can be prevented here, in this nest. In this park.”
“No, its closing time.” The door’s lock clicked like the snap of a beak.
He walked back to the path towards his apartment and heard the honks of the rising traffic. The wealthy homes on the hills had already ignited their lights. Televisions and computer screens flashed through the high fence.
Three black new crows held the creaking wire beside the others. He looked up at the glowing line of cars beyond the park, curling its way to the border, pulsing red and white. The sun had gone. Above, a few of the brightest stars appeared as the darkening field and the entirely invisible nest vanished to black. As he turned and walked home he considered many options, but faced a cold rising wind with a shrug, before hearing dry caws and the busy flutter of descending wings.
Brett Warnke is an Ocean Beach writer and occasional contributor to the OB Rag.