A bird takes my breath away

My wife, the Urban Gardener, finally bought an owl.

She just wasn't going to take it anymore - the uninvited squirrels, the crows, the raccoon, the skunk, the possum that she calls a wombat, and the neighborhood cat that stakes out the bird feeder.

The all-natural animal repellent hadn't been doing the job, though its stains on the lawn chair and hibiscus possess a certain charm.

So there I was, minding my own business, when in she walked with the owl. It is a rubber owl, marketed to guard gardens like a scarecrow.

All I had to do was blow it up and fasten it to a post with its little black lace-up girdle.

Human visitors see the owl glaring from the raspberries and do a double take. The effect on other creatures is hard to measure.

The squirrels pay no attention. The absence of small birds may have been caused by a coincidental change of seasons or of birdseed.

But in the dead of night, somebody or something attempted owlicide.

No signs of a struggle. Only tiny gashes - clawings? - near the tail.

But 'tis enough, 'twill serve, as Romeo's fallen friend Mercutio said.

My breath had left the body.

Throw the owl away and cut our losses?

Not as long as a two-foot-tall granddaughter loves to squeeze its beak and does not groan when Grandpa resurrects what owls say on a rainy day:

"Too wet to woo."

The owl will have a home as long as Grandma Urban Gardener says "1 ... 2 ... 3 ... owl eyes!" when she opens her lids nose-to-nose with the grandchild, the way she once did with the grandchild's father.

This is where I come in, the alleged resident handyman. I tape up the gashes. I blow into the small slippery valve and feel the carcass return to life size in my arms. I use both hands and a lot of facial expression to push in the stopper without letting out too much air.

I take the owl to the post. I tighten its little black girdle. It stands tall again and maybe scary enough to put in the window for Halloween. The UG is positively complimentary.

The next day, the painted feathers seem to have shrunk a bit. The following day, a bit more.

I plunge the owl into the bathtub. It keeps bobbing to the surface, staring up at me like the corpse in that French movie, showing no bubbles to reveal the slow leak that must be there.

I add tape to strengthen the little black girdle.

The third day, our guardian slumps over like a melted watch, a Salvador Dali owl.

Is this sheer poetry or what? Marianne Moore called on poets to provide imaginary gardens with real toads in them. We had a real garden with a deflated owl in it.

I blow up the owl. I squeeze the valve enough, but not too much, to put the stopper in. I retighten the little black girdle. I straighten the post.

Does anyone give a hoot that, unless all varmints and grandchildren stay away, my foreseeable future will be blowing up an owl every three days?

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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