The propriety of place

Animals are like people. When they're in their right places, everything's fine. When they're not, they need to get there. This is true whether they're real or stuffed - the animals, that is.

The woodpecker in the living room, for instance. A real one, a young 'un. A couple of weeks ago it suddenly materialized in our daughter's living room, turning an area with overtones of Victoriana into a steeplechase course.

Unwisely lowbridging the cat, it circumnavigated the room, hotly followed by cat and 12-year-old Kristie, each struggling for control. Over the piano bench and into the cat's jaws it flew. Kristie quickly pried it out and gently laid it outside, but it did not move and its left wing was stuck out at an odd angle. We decided to give it time.

I had a flashback to our daughter's childhood, when one evening just after bedtime she called out: "Nanna! There's a bird in my room!" An obvious stall from a master practitioner, my mother thought, but she investigated anyway and found a little finch flying happily around.

Nor are birds the only animals that misplace themselves. In my wife's early years, she once dreamed that a black cat was sitting in her mother's high-heeled shoe in her parents' bedroom. Not so, they reassured her, theirs being a cat-free environment; to prove it, they carried the little girl into their bedroom. But there in a high-heeled shoe unaccountably sat a black cat.

You can imagine the child's reaction.

Where these animals come from nobody knows, but they are better off once returned to their proper environments. Most everybody's happy to see wild animals outside, for instance. Take deer: Our daughter enjoys Bambi and family as they pick their way through her leafy backyard, although she could do without their floral tasting parties.

And my wife admires the sleek red fox who ambles through our suburban yard as though he owns the place. Maybe he does, or did: Surely there's a reason why the area is named "Fox Hills."

But while wild animals are in their right places when outside, try taking a stuffed one there, especially if you're six feet tall and spied by merciless humans. One morning while I was grandfathering, the 10-year-old called; She'd forgotten a stuffed cat that had a key role in a school play. Would I please bring it?

I was happy to, until I started walking toward the school with a stuffed animal tucked under one arm. "Taking your friend for a walk?" asked one twinkle-eyed passerby. "You two look very cute," offered another. "I hope you get to sleep all right tonight," chuckled Carolyn's teacher.

Stuffed animals belong indoors, thank you.

That incident produced another flashback, of the day my wife found herself at work without her purse and asked me to see if it was still in a certain store. I went grudgingly: The only thing I feared more than not finding it was turning it up; strolling through downtown holding a woman's purse is not something men of my generation aspire to. Fortunately I succeeded in failing, and the pocketbook later turned up elsewhere, money intact.

As to the little woodpecker, its saga, too, had a happy ending. After it had lain motionless on the deck an hour or more, Kristie stood where it could see her and flapped her arms, encouraging it to fly. Suddenly it stirred, retracted its left wing back into proper position close to its tiny body, and in the blink of an eye flew up into the trees and out of sight.

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