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Upsetting the Natural Order

With toolbox in hand, I walk out to my truck from the small repair job just completed at an old customer’s home in an exclusive west-side neighborhood.   Home security signs mark manicured lawns that fit the landscapes like large, green, area rugs. 

Overhead, a flock of sparrows cruises a blue sky highlighted with a hint of late afternoon clouds.  Suddenly—as if out of nowhere—a big, black crow dive-bombs the flock, striking a single, unfortunate sparrow.  Clutching the prey in its claws, the crow bats its large, black wings and caws, as if warning the panicked flock, which chirps and dives vainly at the crow in an effort to free their captured comrade—but to no avail. 

The crow lands on an upper branch in one of the giant cottonwood trees across the street.  With one claw, it holds down the struggling sparrow, while caw, caw, cawing at the chirping flock which continues to circle and swoop, but with no more effect than irritating gnats.  The crow draws itself erect, pulls its head back, and then hammers its yellow beak down into the much smaller bird.

“Hey!” I yell and wave my old, Dodgers cap up at the carnivorous crow.  But it pays me no heed.  When it draws its head back again and spikes down a second time at the still struggling sparrow, I drop my toolbox, hunt up a couple walnut-sized rocks from the dirt around a nearby bush, then hurry across the street. 

“Hey!” I yell again.

 But the crow still ignores me and strikes down again at the sparrow.

I know the little bird is probably dead meat by now and I know it’s the natural order of things—only the strong survive in nature—and the crow’s pretty high up in the tree, but I position myself with a clear shot at a familiar distance: about 60 feet.  I line myself up so that an errant throw won’t go through a neighbor’s window, which I would then have to explain and repair.  Holding one of the rocks loosely with my thumb and the first two fingers of my right hand, I lean back on my right leg, lift my front foot off the ground, and fire a would-be fastball up into the tree.  The rock smacks the branch under the crow and ricochets—like a knock-down pitch at an opposing batter—into its chest, knocking the crow backwards, causing little black feathers from its tuft to hang momentarily in the air, until it flaps its extended wings, hovers, and shrieks a defiant caw-w-w!  The flock scatters.   The wounded sparrow rolls slowly off the upper branch, plummeting, spiraling down, when suddenly its little wings flutter, then extend to swoop and lift the wounded bird just over the ground.  Incredibly, the little bird beats its wings and climbs back up to join the still-circling flock.

The big crow lands on another branch, stares down at me, and caws loudly.

“Back at you, buddy.” I drop the other rock and—and while keeping an eye on the crow—head back across the street to my truck.

When I get home, my teenage son—in cap and sweats—is waiting for me.  “Can you catch me?  I need to throw today.”

“Sure.”

My son plays baseball for his high school team.  To stay sharp, he throws with me on our make-shift mound in the back yard, which keeps me sharp, too.  I follow him outside.  He hands me my catcher’s mitt.

“What took you so long?” he asks.

“I needed to throw today, too.”

“Huh?” He stands on our homemade pitching rubber—a wooden 2” x 4” sunken sideways into a mound of decomposed granite from the local lumber yard—rubs the red-seamed baseball between his hands and awaits my explanation.

Standing behind home plate—60 feet, six inches away—I turn the bill of my well-worn, Dodgers cap around and raise my mitt as a target.  As he warms up, I tell him about my one-pitch save.

“Lucky throw,” he assesses from the mound.

I correct him: “Good throw.” And toss the baseball into his already-extended glove.  “Lucky sparrow.”


Previously published in: www.ourusamagazine.com, Summer Issue, ’13; Sport Literate, Volume 8, Issue 1, Pint Size Pub., Chicago, IL, 12/’12.