This Is for the Birds

The Plot so Far

Where there are woods there are wood pigeons. Their hoo-hooing would soothe the tetchiest breast. But this mellifluence bears a different connotation if, where there are woods and wood pigeons, there are also allotment gardens with newly sown vegetables in them.

I suppose - though I'm a mere novice - I should have known wood pigeons are gourmets of seedling green things like peas, cabbages, sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. But I did not, and the old-timers somehow forgot to warn me. Actually, I suspect there may be a "he'll learn" attitude in this. Experience is the best teacher.

Anyhow, my second row of peas was a washout. Poor seed, I thought. I sowed more. Of these, about 10 or 12 germinated. Then I noticed that some that had emerged had been tweaked off by a person or persons unknown. The sages suggested the perpetrators might be furred but were probably feathered. "Could be squirrels," some said. "Could be mice," hazarded others. But the majority vote was for wood pigeons.

It was only then that one of my tours of the plots revealed the serious foresight with which everyone else had installed every kind of bird-deterrent inventible, while all I had done was surround my seedlings with a few twigs and strings. And these were not anti-avian, but to stop the exuberant dog from blundering across newborn species. To wood pigeons, these twigs probably looked like an invitation, a convenient perch on which to cooingly digest leguminous or cabbagy substances.

More radical solutions were needed.

Red resorts to various methods. Fine plastic netting is one. (The Macleods, on their model plot, also use this.) But plastic bottles, placed over newly planted cabbages, making the area look like a commercial for carbonated drinks, is another. And then he evidently spends his long winters plaiting rescued fragments of baler twine into lengths of decorative macrame from which he dangles shiny things that flutter and dance in the breeze.

Jean, who for a newcomer seems to have everything well worked out, has made her plot look like an earthy ocean dotted with sunken ships. Their funnels (cut-off pieces of drainage pipe) stick up on all sides, a horticultural Pearl Harbor. In each is a vulnerable plant.

Almost opposite the Macleods is the bird-scaring plot par excellence: Big Ted's.

Ted tries everything.

Crisscrossed cat's cradles of red-and-white striped tape, the sort roadmen use to keep pedestrians from falling into deep holes.

A ubiquitous danglement of flotsam.

And, Ted's crowning glories, a cut-out cat with scintillating vermilion eyes revolving on a pole, and a bird on another that not only revolves but flaps its wings. It is a primitive totem, with real feathers attached. It is a work of art.

"It's a cross between a grouse and an emu," its maker claims, grinning.

"Does it work?" I ask.

"Does it work?" the vociferous Englishman echoes. "No," he answers with proud irony, "it does not work. An hour and a half after I put it up, a pigeon was eating the gooseberries just under it."

But to me it seems that Ted is unbothered. And I think this is because, like all true artists, he knows that art is essentially non-functional. Or, as the Philistines say, "Art is for the birds."

It certainly isn't against them.

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