Sunday, September 12, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: An Invasive Species

I was on the balcony writing when I heard that deep-throated ventriloquist "meow" cats use when their mouths are full, and out came Thai with a mouthful of bird.

Thai is a lousy hunter, so it wasn't dead. I know some people say when a cat brings you live prey that they want you to play with it and learn to hunt for yourself, but I assure you, Thai doesn't know how to kill things. So I would have had no choice but to take it from her, even if it had been a house sparrow, which honestly I'd as soon she killed as not. But it wasn't. I think it was a juvenile Carolina Wren, though it had an eye ring instead of an eye streak and the tail was missing. It was so small, and the beak was a wren beak, and the breast feathers were yellow.

Thus began the great pursuit. Of course I didn't succeed in taking it from her. She let it go before I could, and then I was running interference to keep her from catching it again and it was hopping and flying frantically, until it wound up in the bedroom between the wardrobe and the built-in bookshelves. So I shut Thai out on the balcony and tried to drag it out with a towel, but no dice. But the wardrobe is in an alcove created by the bookcases being built around a disused but not filled-in door to the study. So I went around to the study (having to shut Bruce out of that room and the bedroom, which is a more elaborate process than it sounds like), moved the full bookcase, and opened the door.

Now, I had been feeling lousy and moreover this was during the period when the desktop computer wasn't functioning and we were still trying dodge after dodge to bring it back. The wren had all kinds of dusty holes and corners in which to hide, and took advantage of them all, while I couldn't google "animal rescue" or "How do I get a scared wren out of my study?" But, being the old-fashioned kind of person I am, I had the phone book and a landline, and I used them.

Most of the animal rescue places weren't answering their phones for one reason or another, but I finally got one, where a woman told me to darken the room, open a window, and leave it alone for awhile so it could find its way out. I told her I wasn't sure it could fly. It was fluttering around about the height of the baseboards and had no tail. She said in that case when it tried to get out the window I should put it in a box and bring it over.

The study is not that easy a room to darken. I tried to hang a towel over the windows in the balcony doors, but it didn't work well. The wren had settled down behind the filing cabinets, which is near the corner with the open window, so I built a crude pen out of file boxes and stuff that could be set flush to the floor and were taller than the wren's demonstrated flight capacity. Concerned that she was probably overheated and lacking any other bait, I set a shallow dish of water in the middle, shut the connecting door, fetched an indignant Thai off the balcony through the bedroom, shut her and Bruce both outside, and had lunch.

After lunch, I came back up in time to see the wren perch on the water dish, fly from there to the window, and fly away.

So I swept the study (the doorway was filthy) and put everything back where it belonged. Thai snubbed me all day, making a point of being near me so I could see her doing it.

If you don't automatically think "picture book" after all that, you should reconsider whether writing for children is your true calling. The situation is accessible to small children, the action is visual and potentially funny, rife with ways to delineate in art and text the soft-hearted, muddle-headed, messy householder and the desperate but resourceful young wren who doesn't trust her, and it ends with a punch line. Depending on the emphasis chosen, you could imply morals about keeping your workspace tidy, courage and resource in the face of danger, or even training your cat not to hunt. Make the householder a dog to whom the visiting cat has brought a live bird as a present, to make up a quarrel (she says!) and you've got a Beatrix Potterish anthropomorphic social farce.

That's the obvious use. But why stop with the obvious? Especially when the obvious is a format I've never been much into. I never even read them much, advancing to chapter books as soon as feasible, and you may not have noticed this, but my wordcounts tend to run high for a picture book.

Couldn't I also use an anecdote like this as an anchor for an article for a nature magazine? As part of a work of non-fiction on urban wildlife and how to deal responsibly with the intersection of human residence with the animal world? Raccoons and possums in the attic, skunks under the shed, squirrels on the bird feeder, mice in the compost heap - I've got them all. Can I write about them? Could it be a fable? A cartoon short subject script? (Nope, not getting into scripting, either!)

With my productive work days averaging about four hours long lately, I'm not going to divert any energy into developing this idea in any of those formats. I need to focus on Len, and keeping the existing projects in the mail, and keeping the house and yard from smothering in neglect. It's not impossible I will use this someday.

In the meantime, having put it into a blog post, which is using it after a fashion, I can forget about it for awhile.

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