Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published September 1, 2005

Bob White Goes Postal

As I knelt on my patio, under a hot sun, sanding away at the old cabinet whose repair has taken up half my summer, my cat sprang from a lazy curl into an attack crouch. Her eyes bore down under the gate where two feet and a small, flitting shadow stood poised to enter her domain.

My letter carrier emerged a saddlebag of mail slung over his shoulder. At his feet darted a bird racing from one shoe to the other. “Princess Potty Mouth” (Reader - Oct.14, 2004) crept forward gaining speed. The bird fled into my neighbor’s yard. The Princess reached the end of her tether and glared at the quarry beyond her reach.

“Hey Harry,” said my carrier. “It’s the darnedest thing. Ever since I got to the Plumb’s house this bird has followed me up and down everybody’s steps.”

The mailman and I gingerly stepped past the Princess and found the quail pecking at the grass under a lilac. “I think it’s a quail.” I suggested. When I stooped down the bird rushed us. Mindful of the Princess I turned around and deftly removed her leash and tossed her in the house dashing her hopes for fowl play. The bird was so much plumper than the nasty, little shrew she had batted onto the patio a few days before. Potty Mouth glowered at me from behind the screen door.

Our carrier toiled on leaving the quail, which had followed him so ardently, to me and my cat’s tender mercies.

Being a man of science I reasoned that the quail must be hungry. I backed away from the bird toward my cat whose face was pressed into the screen. As I drew back the bird advanced and Potty Mouth’s eyes grew big. I squeezed in the door using my leg to fend off a feline escape. I grabbed a handful of quail food; my honey coated, puffed wheat cereal. I squeezed past Potty Mouth and held out a puff in token of friendship.

The quail gave my knuckle a sharp peck and I jerked my hand back. There was no blood. Obviously the bird didn’t know where the puff ended and my finger began. I cautiously tossed a puff on the ground. My guest ignored the puff and gave my hand another sharp rap. No more half measures for me. I tossed the whole handful of puffs on the patio. The quail chased me back behind the screen door with the Princess. My garden's nemesis, Tomato Biter, rushed onto the patio to help himself to quail food

Now Potty Mouth had a quail and a chipmunk to inflame her passions. Reasoning that the bird was myopic I poured an overflowing bowl of puffs and bravely squeezed past my cat to set it on the patio. The Quail attacked my hand again. The bird was obviously delirious.

I retreated to my kitchen and looked suspiciously at the bird from a window. Tomato Biter had a death grip on the cereal bowl. Its cheeks ballooned out with puffs. My cat was snarling at the door. I called the Hospital.

“Hello” I said to the receptionist. “I was wondering if it’s possible to get rabies from a bird.”

“One moment,” she said.

I was connected to an authority in the rabid bird department. “No, you can’t get rabies from a bird,” the authority told me but then paused alarmingly. “Did it break the skin?”

“No, it didn’t.” I said, looking at my intact hand.

“No, you can’t get rabies from a bird,” said the authority with finality.

“Thank you.” I said. 

Now that my survival was assured I had to figure out what to do with an aggressive quail. Not every Duluth cat was leashed. I knew just who to call. Duluth has a bird woman, Laura Erickson. Unfortunately, Duluth also has a lot of Scandinavians. In a flash I knew who could tell me which of the of the phonebook’s five columns of Ericksons was my Erickson.

“Wild Birds Unlimited,” said a familiar voice on the end of the line. “Jen speaking.”

 “Is this the Jen who was my daughter’s bridesmaid?” I asked hopefully. 

It was! Hallelujah! “Jen,” I explained, “a quail followed the mailman into our yard and now it won’t leave. Do you have the bird woman’s number?” Well, yes, Jen did have the bird woman’s home phone number but not her work phone. I’d have to wait to call until evening. I couldn’t wait so Jen gave me the number of a wildlife rescuer instead. It’s just as well. I believe I had left a message with the bird woman last year asking her if the flock of white birds I’d seen flying over Duluth Heights without an ultra light could possibly have been whooping cranes. She might not have taken my quail call seriously.

While Jen looked up the animal rescue number the quail whistled “Ha – Whyyy.”

“That’s a Bob White!” I said. “Can you hear it over the phone?”

“Yes, I can.” said Jen humoring the father-of-the-bride. Jen gave me the number.

“Thank you Jen,” I said.

I called the wildlife rescuer. “Is the bird hurt?” the rescuer wanted to know.

“No," I said, "it just follows people around.”

“Well, I only take in animals that can’t take care of themselves. You should release it in the country.”

“OK.” I said. “Thank you.”

I got a laundry basket and pried my apoplectic cat off the screen locking her in the house. I tried tossing the basket over the quail but it scooted a foot out of the way. On the second try I got it and slid a recycling bin lid under the basket to give it a bottom. Then I drove to the Hartley Nature Center. Its parking lot was packed with cars. People were busy making themselves part of nature. Little boys crowded around my basket peering in as I carried Bob to the Center’s offices.

I got the OK to release Bob in the woods and walked half a mile up a wide path into the heart of the preserve. I let Bob out and turned to leave. Bob followed me. He thought I was a mail man. I chased Bob yelling “Booga Booga Booga.” Bob ran away. When I stopped chasing him Bob followed me again.

I chased Bob anew. “Booga booga booga!” I waved my hands dramatically for emphasis. Bob ran away again - until I stopped. Again and again I chased Bob off. It was hot and I was getting sweaty. After one particularly grueling chase I lost sight of Bob. Greatly satisfied I squinted into the distance. Behind my back, my tennis shoe received several sharp taps.

In desperation I picked up a big stick and waved it menacingly at Bob while shouting horrid imprecations. I gave him little swats. I booga boogaed him. I chased him for a hundred yards then turned on my heels and raced madly for my laundry basket. Without a look back I ran down the path which was no more than a big arrow pointing to the post office. I didn’t dare turn around.

Under a willow tree near the Center’s office sat a worker eating lunch with half a dozen youngsters.

“Did you get rid of the bird?” she asked. Panting I said, “Yes, but my guess is that you’ll be the one getting rid of it next.” She and I peeked nervously down the path. I didn’t stop moving till I got to my car.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com