I love watching the neighborhood kids play because they go about it like my brother and I used to, riding their bikes like the hounds of hell are on their heels, tearing up the alleys, ducking in and out of yards, or streaking down sidewalks. Animated voices arrive well in advance of their actual bodies, and lingers in the air after they’ve disappeared.
Sometimes they jump on the trampoline, or into their pool. Sometimes they play fetch with their dog, or tag football in their front yard. Sometimes they shoot baskets, and…, sometimes they bring out their air rifle b.b. guns and target practice. That’s when I get a little nervous. The other day as we sat on the porch, we could hear their voices rising in pitch, excitement boiling over. A long dark gun was held by the eldest and it was obvious something in the trees had been spotted.
I heard someone say, “shoot it, shoot it.”
Quietly, I said, “Oh no,” while my husband remained silent, watchful, probably hoping like me their aim hadn’t improved.
There was a sort of pop. I saw a dove launch itself out of a pecan tree, heading straight for our yard.
Then a chorus of: “You got it! You got it!” “Where did it go?” “I don’t know!”
Me, again, more distressed: “They’re shooting at the birds!”
I thought they’d missed. Thank God.
You see, I feed the birds every day, and it’s as if they’ve come to recognize me. I can hear them in the trees when I go outside in the mornings, and it’s not only the dove, it’s purple finches, goldfinches, sparrows, wrens, redheaded woodpeckers, a pair of cardinals, a couple of catbirds, and a few thrushes. Their calls and whistles, and chirps and cheeps grow louder as I strew the seed about. They seem to know why I’m there and as soon as I’m done, and before I can get back inside, they swoop down to eat.
The kids came out of the backyard to investigate. They saw us, and grew quieter, but kept searching, declaring amongst themselves they’d seen feathers fly.
I spoke to them from where we sat, “It’s not dove season, right?”
The eldest, a great kid whom I’ve known since he was born, replied in a quiet voice, “No ma’am.”
They returned to their backyard and shut the gate. It was then I looked to my right, and there, on the pine straw, below a bush was the dove. Not even five feet from me. And of course, it was dead.
To say I’m tenderhearted over such things is an understatement. As I gathered it up, ignoring the blood and the lolling head, all I could focus on was the warmth still there, the plush feathers, and the soft gray and browns inherent to a mourning dove. They are often called Carolina turtle dove, or rain dove as well, and amazingly, they are monogamous. Funny, delicate seeming birds, with a head much smaller than their body, they can fly up to 55 m.p.h. They are breeding now, which is why they aren’t in season. It’s possible a nest has been compromised. I can’t help myself, but I’m half crying, and feeling a bit silly for doing so.
Like I said, tenderhearted. What can I say?
I took the bird to the back gate, and as I expected, the eldest when he opened it and saw what was in my hand was more than sorry. His face expressed genuine concern and real worry, yet, I too am worried because this is one of those awkward situations where, as an adult, I have to handle it appropriately yet make my point.
I shook my head, and said, “I just can’t handle seeing anything get shot.”
He replied, “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I won’t do it again.”
I said, “Well. Now you have it, what are you going to do with it?”
He said, “eat it.”
Which is, of course, the right answer.
I handed it to him and he took it from my hands carefully. I came back over to our porch, up the steps and inside to wash my hands. When I went back out, within seconds, he came out of their back gate, across the alley, up our steps to stand before us, to apologize again. At that point, still sort of teary eyed, I began to feel like a real jerk. His parents are stellar. They’ve taught all their children to respect adults, mind their manners, and I would bet money, he’s the most considerate thirteen year old I know.
He said it again, “I’m really sorry, Miss Donna. I won’t do it again.”
I said, “I know, and I know you hunt, and your dad takes you, and you know about responsibility. For me, it’s just that…, I feed them, you know? And, I’m such a rule follower.”
He stood there, hands folded in front of his shirt, so contrite and clearly disturbed.
I wish it hadn’t happened. I don’t want him to think he can’t play, run or ride in that free and spirited way like before. I want him to know I trust his word, and that even though one small mourning dove is gone, he IS a really good kid.
And that we all make mistakes.