Summer vacations were fun alright; we’d pack up the car and head out on the road to places we’d only read about and seen in books or magazines. Back then most everybody traveled by car since traveling by airplane was very expensive and not as convenient as it is today. You could travel by train and we did a few times. But, my brother and I always liked the long car rides, not so much the riding part, but the things that we got to do along the way. Every morning my mom would give us these cool little boxes of cereal for breakfast which you could turn the box into a bowl and then pour milk right into the box. At noon we always found a roadside picnic table to eat the lunch my mom had prepared for us. We always had a big cooler and a picnic basket that was stocked with all the things we liked best; summer sausage, pickles, cheese, potato chips, cupcakes, brownies, cookies, Cracker Jacks and all kinds of fruit. Once we’d eaten, dad would always let us run around and play for a while, which was the best part of stopping for lunch. Years ago, when I was a kid, the roadside picnic tables were not at a rest stop or park, just a table alongside the road tucked away on the edge of some farmer’s field. Sometimes they were alongside a gas station where we could go inside and get some candy or an ice cream bar. You may find this hard to believe, but there was no McDonald’s, Burger King or any other fast food restaurant along the way, back then. You either brought your own food or stopped at a roadside diner where the food was pretty icky, at least by a kid’s standards.
It may surprise you but the story I’m about to tell is not about one of our vacation trips, but about what happened when we got home. We had been gone for most of two weeks and my folks had put our dog Lady in the kennel while we were gone. A kennel is like a doggy motel but without television and nice beds, of course. Upon arriving home and after we emptied out the car and carried in all the luggage, coolers, bags and mountains of other stuff into the house, we set off to pick up Lady at the kennel. Lady was always super excited to see us and would wag her tail so hard you thought it might fly right off her behind. She didn’t like riding in the car much since she often got car sick, but on the trips back from the kennel she was too happy and excited to get sick.
Once we were home Lady would run through the house smelling around in every room, almost like she had forgot that this was where she lived and what it smelled like. Usually, it took an hour or so for her to settle down and go into the kitchen hall and lie down. Before she settled down there was of course the mandatory trip outside to do her business and this time was no different. My brother opened the back door a let her out to run around and smell every corner of our yard. However, she wasn’t outside more than a few minutes when we heard her bark frantically and after a bit, begin to howl and yip like she was afraid or in pain. Dad, my brother and I bolted out the back door to see what all the barking and howling was about. I will never forget what we saw because it was something right out a scary movie.
Lady was running in circles jumping up into the air; barking and howling at the same time. But the real scary part were the dozens and dozens of big black birds swooping down at her, attacking her on her back and pecking at her face. There must have a half a dozen of them clinging to her with their claws digging into her back; while at the same time biting and screeching in a high pitched sound that almost hurt your ears. My brother and I froze in our tracks, afraid to step off the stoop, thinking they might attack us next. But my dad immediately ran to rescue Lady from her attackers. He yelled and waved his arms frantically, swung his fist at the birds on Lady’s back and after just a minute or two, they all flew over to a power-line and tree that bordered our yard. Lady kept barking and wanted to give chase but my dad grabbed her by the collar and dragged her into the house with my brother and I right behind them.
It was obvious that the blackbirds were trying to peck ladies eyes out because there were marks on her face and blood where her fur had been torn out around her eyes. I was so frightened I began to cry, partly because I was scared and also because I felt sorry for Lady. Granted, we didn’t get along that well but she was our dog and I did care about her. Mom hugged me and dad said the birds would go away so there was nothing to be afraid of, but my brother and I weren’t so sure. Mom cleaned the blood off Lady’s face and back, while giving her some dog treats to help her forget about the incident. A couple hours later, before it got dark my brother and I peeked out the back door to see if those black devils were still there. To our horror, there they were still perched on the power lines and just barely visible among the leaves and branches of our big maple tree. We ran and told dad but he assured us they would be gone by morning. When dad let Lady out for the last time that night he went with her and all seemed quiet and back to normal, but was it?
Dad was right, the next morning we all went out with the dog and there wasn’t a blackbird in sight, which was a great relief. But as dad left for work I heard him say to my mom, “Keep an eye on the dog and the kids this afternoon when they are out in the back yard. If you see any of those birds begin gather, go in the house and stay put until I get home.” Hearing him say that, I was more than a little nervous about playing outside, but my brother called me a chicken so I had no choice but act like I wasn’t scared and go out and play anyway. The day went by without incident, that is, until late in the afternoon; an hour or so before my dad was to return home from work. We were playing on the swing set, talking about going in the house to check out the cartoons on TV when we heard the caw…caw…caw of a black bird, but not just one but a whole bunch of them. Then the dog started barking like crazy, so we both jumped off the swings and ran as fast as we could up to the stoop, too scared to slow down or look back. As we hit the screen door I shouted to my brother, “Now who’s chicken?”
Mom met us at the door and called Lady to come in the house and we all stayed inside; my brother and I peering out the window waiting for my dad to pull in the drive. When he arrived, Jim and I ran out to meet him, barely waiting for him to stop; both us shouting at the same time, “They’re back…they’re back!” Dad grabbed us by the hand telling us it would be OK as he led us back into the house. That night at dinner dad explained to us what a man had told him at work who knows about birds and such things. According to him, while we were on vacation the blackbirds took over our yard, probably because of the big garden we had and the tall sweet corn dad had planted in the spring. He explained that the birds were just protecting their new territory but would soon leave once they found another home without people and a dog. But my mother asked the question we all wanted answered, “Just how long will that take?” Dad replied, “It’s hard to say but one thing we can do is build a scarecrow, it works for farmers I’m told so that will be tomorrow’s project, to build the scariest scarecrow around.” Now I’m not sure the blackbirds in question were crows or not, but I was sure it didn’t matter.
The next morning we woke up early, considering it was Saturday morning, and wolfed down breakfast; anxious to get started. Dad made a run to the hardware store to buy three straight brooms, which would become the scarecrows body and arms. Mom brought out some old clothes she retrieved from the basement rag bag along with a funny looking straw hat she said my grandpa used to wear. Dad wired our straw man together and since we didn’t have any straw to stuff him, we wadded up old newspapers to give our scary guy a little bulk and shape. Dad stuck him in the ground back by the garden and all that was left to do was wait to see if it worked. The day went by quickly, my brother and I helping our dad clean out the garage, so we almost forgot about the birds and our scarecrow. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon and my brother and I were playing on the swing set, while dad was working in the garage. As I was pumping my legs to get more height before bailing out the swing like an army paratrooper when I heard that all too familiar sound in back of me…caw…caw…caw. I looked up and there they were swooping down on the garden, paying no attention to the sentinel we had built just hours earlier. Jim and I leaped from the swing and ran as fast into the garage yelling, “They’re back…they’re back!”
Dad told us to go into the house and stay put until he could shoo them away. We ran into the house but rushed immediately to the back door to watch the action. Dad calmly walked out into the yard, grabbed the scarecrow and waived it in the air, shouting all the while. Within moments the blackbirds were gone and dad was back in the house. He sat us down at the table and told us that it might take a day or two for them to go away for good and not to be concerned. Although my brother and I were satisfied with his explanation, my mother said, “I’ll give it the weekend, but then we must take more drastic measures, whatever they may be.”
Well, the crows came back twice on Sunday paying absolutely no attention to our scarecrow so I wondered what “more drastic measures” might be as my dad left for work on Monday morning. My brother and I were kind of getting used to their noisy visits in the afternoon, but once again they attacked Lady so we stayed inside all afternoon at my mother’s insistence. When dad pulled in the drive at 5:45, my brother and I ran to greet him asking, “What are going to do, can we help. Please?” Dad directed us to follow him into the garage and it was then he revealed to us the more drastic measures he’d planned. Reaching into a bag he’d pulled from the back seat of the car, dad revealed what was one of the coolest things my brother or I had ever seen, although we weren’t exactly sure what it was at first. After he pulled out a box of steel balls, about a half inch in diameter, we knew what the first item was and what was about to happen. Dad had brought home a very deadly looking slingshot, unlike any slingshot I had ever seen. It was made of tubular metal with a rubber and leather sling and was smaller than a tennis racquet but bigger than a ping pong paddle. Dad told us that it wasn’t a toy because it could shoot steel balls with the force of a gun, and by the looks of it, we had no doubt. All we could do now was wait; wait for those black devils to return.
About every half an hour or so, my brother and I would peer out the back door to see if there were any targets in range and as luck would have it, about 7:00 PM the flock of crows returned and we couldn’t have been more excited. We ran to my dad yelling, “They’re back, they’re back…let’s go!” Dad picked up the slingshot off the kitchen table and we marched out the back door like we were going into battle. Dad told us to stay back and to stay on the stoop, I guess in case of ricochets or something. The birds were all lined up on the phone lines along the back and side of the yard, an easy target in my opinion. Dad loaded up the sling, resting his arm on the swing set slide to steady his aim. Off went the first volley and then a second, the only sound being the disgust in my father’s voice each time he missed. I thought to myself, “If he’d let me try I wouldn’t miss.” But just then as dad released his sixth shot, there was a dull thud, an explosion of black feathers and the sight of a large crow falling unceremoniously to the ground. Almost simultaneously there was an explosion of sound, dozens of crows all crying out at once, caw… caw…caw and then flying off in every direction. It was so loud it was frightening, but really cool at the same time. A couple of them stuck around so dad loaded up again and after a few more misses, he nailed another one.
Dad picked up the dead birds and after allowing Jim and I to briefly examine them, dropped them into the garbage can. Mom warned us not to come back and touch them, saying, “They might be carrying some disease or something.” We did sneak out of the house to take a closer look but we were careful not to touch them. The next morning we looked for the return of the blackbirds but there was none to be seen; the same for the afternoon. For several days we looked, but to our disappointment the plague of the angry blackbirds was over and all that was left as a reminder of the whole episode was our scarecrow, standing guard over the vegetable garden. But I have to say, that to this day, every time I see a big blackbird or crow I remember the loud and frightening sound of dozens of crows crying out, caw…caw…caw.
Why do you think animals sometimes can be mean or scary?
God created all the animals that fly in the air, walk on the ground and swim in our lakes, rivers and oceans. He also gave us the responsibility to rule over them and to take care of them.
What are some of the ways we can take care of animals, not just our pets, but all animals.