‘Death on the Nile’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 17, 2003

It must have been a book or a movie, or both; I don’t recall the plot or the characters, only the title. Even that was lost somewhere in the aging neurons of my brain, but an event a few days ago prompted a thought and brought it to the tip of my tongue. There was this large black crow sitting on a low limb in the oak tree by the driveway. My wife, the bird and animal lover, said it was unusual because he didn’t fly away when she walked under the tree a few feet away. Normally she runs out and claps her hands whenever crows land on her bird feeding area, that’s the place where once or twice a day she spreads the best seeds money can buy; it’s in our budget like the vitamins. Every bird feeder and bird- house is protected from squirrels, snakes and raccoons, so the squirrels live on what the royal birds drop, the snakes don’t care and I’ve never seen a raccoon.

At any rate, the crows arrive to polish up the area and eat every scrap. They eat fast, knowing this lady will spot them and come rushing out of her big birdhouse applauding them as they fly up where she can’t reach, and wait until she retreats. The crow in the oak tree by the driveway didn’t flinch.

Maybe there is one in your family like my wife. Over the years she has revived dozens of birds dumb enough not to recognize that a window is not a flight path. She cups them in her hands and attempts to breathe life back into their little noggins. Often she is successful and they fly away terrified by the human touch. When she is not, there is a funeral. And it’s not just birds.


Email newsletter signup

I remember Ed the squirrel, about three inches long, hardly discernable as a squirrel. You know the routine, the eyedropper, feedings night and day, a soft bed, checking its temperature. When Ed first opened an eye and looked at her I knew he would be a member of our family. And he was, for nearly two years. He was evicted from the house because he too often did what squirrels do. But he had the garage to himself, and a trimmed tree limb was installed in the always-open window so he could run up and out. He did this regularly, coming in only for food and to use his bathroom, which was my workbench. He entertained us by finding a peanut no matter where we thought we hid it. When he took to jumping from the roof onto passing human shoulders, scaring the hell out of the unsuspecting, we begged him to leave. One day he did, which reminds me of another of our pets, Dino.

Dino came to us from Leader Dogs for the Blind. My brother was director of the school where annually hundreds of dogs were trained. The failure rate was pretty high and it was necessary for the rejects to be placed in private homes. We had just put down her beloved dachshund and I brought Dino the Shepard home to ease my wife’s pain. Dino made her life miserable. No matter where Dino was in the house when she opened a door Dino would knock her aside and bolt for freedom to the local playground where he entertained the children. One day, like Ed the squirrel, he didn’t come back.

My first hunting dog, Skip, was a gentle hunter. One day he retrieved and brought home a tiny rabbit. We figured the mother had been killed or injured. The small ball of fur was infested with maggots but my wife cleaned him up and eventually returned him to the wild as a full grown lusty rabbit. Skip’s only negative was his desire to extend his family line and too often a nearby resident called to report he was molesting their Chihuahua.

And there was a baby robin fallen from the nest. She saved him so successfully that he would fly down to her upheld finger, and returned the next year, thrilling her again.

But the crow in the oak tree did not fly. Next day it was down in the grass. Of course she put food nearby, and a dish of water.

But nature finally claimed Mr. Crow who was appropriately dressed in his black suit. I would have buried him but she called the Health Department and they quickly responded. Yep, you guessed it; Mr. Crow had died of the dreaded West Nile virus.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist.