Monday, May 12, 2008

Impy the sparrow farmer

©Ken Harris, 2007

Impy, a grey cat, felt that there was much room for improvement in the world. He especially disliked kittens, and, wouldn’t you know it, my wife’s family, the Heysers, family was always bringing home new ones. The kittens never knew anything. They had to be taught everything, and guess who had to teach them? Right. Impy. Would Sid and Esther teach the newbies how to snatch gophers and break their little necks? Not on your tintype. Lessons like this were always left to Impy. And just when the kittens learned enough to be of some help around the house and in the garden, they would get run over and the whole process would begin again with. Sheesh!
Impy was a large scale sparrow rancher. In the Heyser back yard, between the house and the barn, stood a huge English walnut tree overgrown with ivy. The ivy provided home and haven for thousands of sparrows. When the birds were in full throat, you had to shout to make yourself heard. And if you ventured under the tree without an umbrella, chances are you would have to change clothes and bathe, such was the steady drizzle of guano, dust, twigs, egg shell and other sparrow detritus. In short, the sparrows were a Compleat Nuisance.
While the rest of the family suffered, Impy thought the situation was great. His own plantation! He climb his tree daily, checking the nests. When he found a baby bird that was just right, not too small and bony, not too many baby feathers, he would tip it out of the nest onto the concrete walkway below. Then, down he would come for a sparrow snack. Life was good for him: less so for sparrows. But there were so many sparrows, and only one little cat; he could have gone on for decades if it wasn’t for a stroke of bad luck.
Impy’s days as a plantation owner came to a sudden halt when Joanne’s brother, Fritz, came home from an outing one day with a sparrow hawk in a bag. The bird was a fledgling, just learning to fly, and Fritz had come across him sitting on the ground. He threw a cloth over him and, presto, the bird was bagged. The hawk was unhurt save for his dignity.
Fritz installed the sparrow hawk in a tall cage, about 4’’ x 4’ x 8’, in the back yard and gave some thought to taming the bird. One day he gently poked the remains of a chicken drumstick through the cage, hoping to convince the bird that he was a source of food. The hawk seized the drumstick with one claw and snapped the bone in half and Fritz abandoned all thought of teaching the bird to eat out of his hand.
Several weeks after the sparrow hawk arrived, he decided that he had listened to shrieking sparrows enough. If they wanted shriek, he’d show them shriek. And so he did. Once. Every sparrow in the walnut tree fell silent and people could hear other ambient sounds again, locomotives, freeway traffic, thunder. The silence lasted for a few seconds, and then every sparrow took flight, never to return. The back yard had been restored to the Heyser family, and Impy’s days as a prosperous bird farmer were over.
Fritz freed the sparrow hawk a few days later. He was too wild to tame and too small to eat.
The first time Joanne brought me home to meet her parents, Impy was there to greet me. I wanted to sit in a chair that he already occupied. I waited. And waited some more. Finally, I gently grabbed the cat by his rib cage and lifted him up. The seat cushion came up with him, for he had sunk each claw into the cushion as deeply as he could and then clenched his feet. But gradually gravity took hold and the cushion came loose claw by claw. I sat down and Impy grumpily left the room twitching his stump of a tale. (He had lost most of his tale to a refrigerator fan; otherwise he would have really flipped me off.)

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