My children know my weak spots. Begging for a Pokémon toy or a pack of Bubblicious at the check-out counter will be met with a swift and certain "no." But the child who trails me into a lumber store and asks for some chicken wire and a length of conduit, claiming it's for a "project," knows I'm a soft touch.
Back in the car, $14 poorer, I have the presence of mind to ask, "What project?"
Catching a pigeon, says 13-year-old Max.
Did I know, he asks, that you can tame a pigeon by tying a string to its leg?
I didn't even know we wanted to tame a pigeon, I tell him.
Max explains that after two days on a leash, the bird will consider our doorstep its new home and can be trusted to return to our stoop for the rest of its days. Or, if I'd prefer, Max offers earnestly, the feathered fellow could live in his bedroom. "I'd put newspaper under his cage, Mom."
When I scowl at the idea of domesticating fowl, he proposes less-sentimental reasons for procuring pigeons: donating them to our country neighbor's bird-dog training effort, cooking up a batch of squab soup, or selling them ($2) to his little brothers. Having unwittingly underwritten this project, I suggest catch-and-release, though all this bird-in-the-hand talk is somewhat premature.
The following day, a grinning Max presents me with a contraption of soldered conduit and gleaming chicken wire, the size of an end table. He tells me it could hold a dozen birds, as if this is good news. He highlights the beauty of his design (a cross between a grocery cart and a lobster trap), which includes a handle for tying the hoist rope. "Hoist" catches a mother's attention. Just where are these pigeons he plans to trap?
A half-mile down the road, atop Grandpa's 60-foot grain silo, he explains. I point out that there are far-more-accessible pigeons roosting under the creek bridge, or in the tractor shed. But Max snubs these birds. They are too close to the ground. It's as if I've offered a mountain climber a stroll on a treadmill.
He'll need a ride to the silo, please. It's the "please" that clouds my judgment. As we wrestle the trap into the back of the van, we slice upholstery with raw chicken wire. I pause for a moment, asking myself how I have become co-conspirator in this plot, stepp'd in so far that returning were as tedious as go o'er.
Sixty feet straight up is a lot of "o'er." Neck craned, I survey the ladder, Rapunzel's braid, descending from the silo's top. Max loops a coil of rope over his shoulder and reaches for the first rung. No mother in her right mind would let her child climb a silo. Max shimmies up.
As he climbs, I ask myself: Could I catch a 100-pound boy in a freefall from a silo? Throwing physics to the breeze, I tell myself I could.
At the top of the ladder is a small caged platform, designed to offer a modicum of security to a farmer checking his silage, or to a boy catching a pigeon (but none to the mother watching from below). Max ties his rope to the railing, then drops the serpentine coil. He hollers down instructions for knotting the rope to the cage, and then proceeds to haul it up.
The cage bangs against the silo and snags on reinforcement cables as it batters its way to the top. He straps it to the platform, its conical tunnel inviting entrance (but affording no exit) to pigeons.
A satisfied Max scrabbles back down the ladder. I rub my neck.
For the next several days, Max diligently checks and repositions his trap. He finds a few feathers, but never an entire bird. If he is disappointed, we barely know it, for a boy's enthusiasms blow in - and out - like a Midwest summer storm. I will assume the pigeons prefer the story to end this way.
As for me, did I want the trap to fail? No. Did I want to catch a pigeon? Not especially. The chicken-wire contraption, it seems, was designed to ensnare not a bird, but a mother: her pocketbook, her better judgment, her devotion.