A red-breasted barrier breaker, ornithologically considered
Quite possibly it was the fattest robin I had ever seen; arrogant-looking, too, but obviously brave beyond its several ounces, and at first glance just a little foolishly in pursuit of high adventure deep into the unknown. But after all ornithological implications are considered, this must have been one whale of a little bird.Skip to next paragraph
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I was seated in my writing room in a rocking chair reading the local newspaper, my back to the window. It was around 4:30 on a sunny afternoon. Through the partly open door I heard an unusual flicking sound, rhythmic and bouncy as if something light but wiry was banging softly against something solid. Just then a fat robin - whom I now name Enterprise - came bouncing headlong into the room on skinny legs and ping-ponged across the carpeting, past me and the desk to the cabinets on the far side of the room.
I was surprised, astonished, mystified, and delighted. Here suddenly was a fat, uncompromising robin venturing boldly into the unknown. It could have been soaring artfully through the blue sky or snaring a deliciously slimy worm. But this robin, this Enterprise, in order to enter my room had already left sunshine and the safety of branches and flight and found its way through three doors: first through an atrium door and across eight feet of cement, then through another, darker doorway past towering shelves of useless collectanea indigenous to all garages and then through my door, blithely hip-hopping across twelve feet of brown carpeting.
In the culture and history of robins, this exploration would, I think, be the human equivalent of Columbus finding the New World.
Robins are naturally at home soaring the skyways and viewing what we seldom see, the roofs of houses, trees from the top down or through branches, and all the patterns and shapes that earth can offer from twenty or thirty feet up. Frankly I'm envious of robins. I would like to fly. Here, from an inch or two above a brown carpet, Enterprise now saw a bearded giant with huge feet seated in a chair, bulging bookshelves behind him reaching to the ceiling, and most of all Enterprise was now face to face with a white pig.
Standing on the carpet near the cabinets is my lifelike, life-size, white, ceramic pig with beady blue eyes and glossy skin. This nameless pig looks amazingly real and has scared the wits out of several cats who came upon it unexpectedly. But Enterprise regarded the pig from several feet away, bounced bravely over to it. The pig continued to stare straight ahead in its frozen vacuity while Enterprise seemed to be daring it to do something piggy. The pig didn't and Enterprise rewarded it with a sudden, determined thrust of its beak on the pig's snout. Whack.
My guess is that the bird knew right away that here was a genuine fake, an imposter pig worthy of only a disgusted rap with its beak. Either that or the bird was as witless as a ceramic pig, an assumption I doubt. Then Enterprise turned away to look at me in that quick, side-to-side, head movement common to robins. Don't get any ideas, I murmured. This is one genuine human being seated in this chair.
Enterprise bounced several feet to the side and pecked once at some minuscule hunk of crumb in the carpet, ate it, I suppose, and then bounced over to the door and exited.
I got up quickly and reached the door in time to see the bird ping-ponging along through the garage like a gnat down a canyon and out the door as if this kind of brazen foray was not at all exceptional or even dangerous. It was as if nothing was found to hold the robin's interest and therefore why should an explorer robin hang around a den of inaction?
All this had taken less than thirty seconds, or from an environmental viewpoint, perhaps several million years of development. As far as I am concerned one fat little robin had just broken down some formidable barriers for it and me. But meeting Enterprise left me with the question that Dylan Thomas wondered in his A Child's Christmas in Wales.m When he received a book about wasps he said, ''It told me everything I wanted to know about wasps . . . but why.''