“Pretty postage stamps? Oh yes, this sheet of ‘Birds of Prey’ is especially nice,” the helpful postal office worker told me.

“No birds,” I murmured.

Glancing up, she did not comment, but I think she was wondering, “Who doesn’t like birds?”

That would be me

Before I was old enough to go to school, I regularly walked the quarter-mile from our Alberta farmhouse up the hill and through the woods with my brothers, sister and Katy, the dog. Occasionally, they’d allow me to carry their books.

I helped the big kids, as I called them, wait for the school bus beside the mailbox. When it arrived, my siblings would get on and head off to that wonderful place where I would someday go and learn to read. After the bus disappeared in a cloud of dust, Katy and I would turn around and walk home.

Indelibly etched in my memory is the spring morning when our routine was completely disrupted.

An overnight casualty

Hanging suspended from the top of the Calgary Power pole just inside the gate to our farm was a hawk with a massive wingspan. Although it had been electrocuted during the night, its eyes were wide open as if it refused to accept its fate.

Although they were a part of farm life, I didn’t like dead creatures. I was always saddened and frightened by the loss of a chicken, horse or cow. However, none of those deaths came near the horror of seeing that big bird hanging by its wing.

My revulsion was multiplied many times over that particular morning when Bobby and Arthur told me what was going to happen. Once they got on the bus and it drove away, I needed to watch out, they said.

Terror! Sheer terror!

They told me when I walked past the hawk on the way back to the house, it might come back to life and get me.

Upon hearing that assertion, my imagination ran wild.

I thought it was highly likely that the hawk would rip me to shreds with its giant, dirty talons. That would hurt, a lot and I would bleed. Then it would peck around on me, possibly starting with my eyes. Maybe the big bird might even carry off my carcass.

The dog would be so unnerved that she would run home as fast as she could.

I was alone, so alone

When the bus rolled down the hill and stopped, my upper lip began quivering. My siblings got on and the bus pulled away slowly. The driver, who was accustomed to seeing my little smiling face, glanced back in his rearview mirror sensing something was wrong.

I wasn’t smiling that morning.

The dam broke! Standing still like a statue, I started sobbing uncontrollably. I think I forgot how to breathe.

Alec hit the brakes and backed up the bus. He pushed the lever and the door opened.

“What’s wrong, Elaine?” he asked.

“The hawk is going to get me,” I told him through my tears.

Alec looked up in his mirror at the kids on his bus, who were snickering by this time, and singled out my oldest and wisest sibling.

My sister to the rescue

“Shirley, come up here,” he said. “Walk Elaine back past the hawk so she can go home.”

Shirley grabbed my hand and we trotted back down the road in the direction of the hawk. She opened the gate and held on tight as we passed the ferocious bird that I continued to watch very carefully. When we reached what Shirley considered to be a safe distance beyond it, she whispered something to me.

“I don’t think you need to come up and wait for the bus with us,” she said.

I’m sure Shirley got back on the bus, but I never looked because with both the hawk and the bus behind me, I flew down our gravel road as fast as my five-year-old legs could carry me. The dog kept pace, utterly oblivious to my great anxiety.

Granny’s trusted remedy: hot tea

I ran directly to Granny’s house that was perched on a hill not far from our home. She listened carefully to my tale of woe while fixing me a cup of tea liberally laced with cream and sugar. Then she toasted some bread on her wood cookstove and buttered it. The tea and toast certainly helped to settle my nerves.

Granny reminded me that I sometimes pestered my brothers and this could be considered payback. She advised me not to tell Mom and Daddy because the boys might deal me more misery.

I had another more serious worry, though. What if I was forever denied the privilege of walking up to meet the school bus?  That would be dire punishment. 

Fortunately, Shirley soon backed off her warning and I was once more invited to join the big kids on their morning trek. Every day, though, I checked to reassure myself that there wasn’t another hawk hanging from the power pole.

I continued my surveillance long after my siblings and I no longer rode the same school bus. 

Little birds don’t scare me

Not too long ago, my friend, Carolyn, asked if I’d like to see the amazing photos of a pair of eagles nesting near their home. I had to admit that I’m not a birdwatcher by any stretch of the imagination.

That said, during the frigid February 2021 Texas storm I refilled the birdfeeders when I made my farmyard rounds in the cold and snow. In the past, Emil had conscientiously fed the birds. However, he was preoccupied with the safety of the livestock and keeping an eye on pipes that threatened to freeze.

When the birdseed bucket was empty, I substituted oatmeal and cornmeal. Although the various birds riding out the storm with us may not have been impressed but made do because they were cold and hungry.

Also during that cruel weather, I came across several little lifeless birds on the ground in the tractor shed. I felt sorry that they had suffered, freezing to death before the temperatures finally moderated.

Perhaps that’s a significant experience. Maybe someday I’ll work through my big bird phobia.

***

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Elaine
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