The little man and the rainbirds

Published 12:53 pm Friday, August 18, 2006

The rain this weekend is the first we’ve had in a long time here at Brownspur, breaking a three-month drought. We’ve got trees dying, that I think the rain is too little, too late, for, and cracks three inches wide in the ground haven’t closed a smidgen yet. On the other end of the scale, however, my scientific cousin Mountain Willy warns that we may see a shift in climate this winter and spring similar to that of the 1927 Flood.

However, we’ve been working the hoses constantly this summer to keep the yard and flower gardens from burning up, and we’ve blessed Billy Schultz’s heart many a time for the well he drilled when we moved the house out here nearly 30 years ago. One of our watering apparatuses is “The Little Man,” as we’ve come to call him: a small figurine of a boy sitting cross-legged, wearing a straw hat, and holding a Lab puppy. He’s rigged up with a hose attachment on his tee-heinie, and a sprinkler nozzle sits unobtrusively atop his wide-brimmed hat. He’ll sit out by Betsy’s High Place and water her flowers overnight, looking just like some of our kids used to, with their pups.

I had moved The Little Man closer to the house one day last week to water some St. Augustine trimmings I’d punched into the ground by the bay magnolia that grows at the edge of the patio. Come lunchtime I opened a can of mustard sardines and sliced some cheese, snagged a pack of crackers and an ROC, and took them to the screen porch, The Little Man sitting maybe 15 feet away, happily watering.

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I was reading a book, but was interrupted by the cacophony of bird noises. Birds, especially blue jays, often will set up a fuss at snakes, so I shifted to where I could see if something needed killing out there. Nothing did; this was simply playtime!

A robin, a mockingbird, a jaybird, and two sapsuckers were having the best time out there. Remember when you were a kid, and Daddy would cut the lawn sprinkler on, and you’d put your swimming suit on, and run back and forth through the spraying cool water? I have a three-stitch scar on my knee from slipping as I tried to jump over Big Dave’s sprinkler one summer, in town. My ex-Noo Yawk City daughter says they do the same thing in NYC, except the spray comes from opened fire hydrants. Well, The Little Man is a gentle sprinkler, and those five birds were taking turns swooping through his spray, cooling off in 100+ degree heat. One would fly from the bay magnolia to the corkscrew willow, and the rest would cheer as he flapped through the spray. Some were doing aerobatics, others were taking rounders, and the mocker actually hovered once.

It took me back to a game we played in the schoolyard at recess, two lines across a space from each other, and one team would holler, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Tommy on over!” The one whose name was called would run toward the other line of kids, who were holding hands to make a barrier that Tommy couldn’t break through. We big guys were team favorites, since it was harder to hold us up. I swear those five birds were doing the same type thing, except not holding hands, of course.

We have a hummingbird feeder in the bay magnolia, and along came a hummer to join the fun. You’d think, with four different varieties of birds in the game, that another would be welcome, but that wasn’t so. The bigger birds fussed at the little one, and two of them chased the hummer off several times, making sure he knew he was unwelcome. The hummingbird then caught a big yellow butterfly feeding off of the rose bush, and durned if he didn’t take off after the butterfly, to run him off!

Then the hummingbird perched on a lower limb of the bay magnolia, barely in the edge of the spray, and began running his tongue out, I reckon to taste the water. First time I’d ever seen that. I have read that hummingbird tongues are considered a delicacy in China, and I was amazed to see how long their tongues are. If a hummingbird’s bill sticks out over an inch, which is probably a good estimate, then their tongue can stick out of the end of their bill another two inches! Where in the heck does he store the thing when he’s flying around without his tongue sticking out? Unbelievable!

It was a good lunchtime. What a show The Little Man and the birds put on!