Monday, June 21, 2010

Bobwhite! Poor Bobwhite!

I’m descended from the Eastern Quail, nicknamed the bobwhite, after the conspicuous call it makes: bobwhite! poor bobwhite! My grandfather was Bob White. My father is Bob White. In our family, we all learned to whistle like a bobwhite before we could speak in full sentences. We were raised amid a huge covey of quail, ranging from small statuary to printed renditions on cocktail napkins. Quail where everywhere in our home as well as in my grandparents’ home. My grandfather had a sign made that spanned the space above his garage door. It read “Quail Haven.” It certainly was. My grandmother even had twelve place settings of fine quail china, along with every obscure serving piece the company manufactured.

My grandmother and mother were both really good sports about the whole quail thing. More than good sports, actually. They encouraged it. This was back in the day when, not only was it customary for a woman to take her husband’s last name upon marriage, but his first name as well. My mother and grandmother were both known as Mrs. Robert White for many years. They were bobwhites, too.

Naturally, when my parents produced the family heir, they named him Bob White, III. (Insert birdcall here.) Eventually, this littlest bobwhite grew up and found himself a mate. Julie is a modern woman. Although she consented to take his last name, I doubt very much she’s ever considered herself a quail. They have one child, our niece, Rachel. Not Roberta or Little Bobbi White. In fact, my brother insists that had she been a boy, she would not have been Robert White, IV.

I’m afraid our line of the Eastern Bobwhite Quail is dying out.

Out West, where I live, we don’t have bobwhites. People don’t even seem to know about them. One time when my mother was here for a visit, she and I were looking around in a boutique. My mother saw a little quail figurine on a shelf.

“Maybe I should buy this,” she said. Then, turning to the sales girl she proudly announced, “I’m married to Bob White.” It was like she’d said “I’m married to Brad Pitt,” only the girl had never heard of Brad Pitt.

“Mom,” I jumped in. “They don’t know about that here.” Then of course I felt like I had to fill the poor girl in on the whole bobwhite thing. I'm pretty sure I even whistled for her. She was very patient and acted like she got it.

No bobwhites here, but we do have their cousins, the California Quail. These are the ones that sport the little fishing lure on the tops of their heads. They moved into our neighborhood about a year ago. They run all over the place. They also have a very distinct call. Two of them, in fact. The first one sounds like they’re crying “Chicago! Chicago!” It also sounds just like my husband’s airless paint sprayer. The second one sounds like they’re calling “Kurt!” It drives my son, Kurt, crazy. He’s really spooked. He’s been out of the country for the past two years so this is the first time he’s heard them.

“I always think they’re calling me,” he says, looking around warily. “It’s creepy. And they want me to move to Chicago.”

My mother has the quail dishes now, and wonders what will become of them after she’s gone. Bob and Julie think they’re hideous, so they don’t want them. I think her only hope of keeping them in the family is if Kurt marries an old fashioned girl and they move to Chicago.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Welcome Wagon Meets Battle of the Barn Swallows

We live in a really friendly neighborhood. It was a really friendly neighborhood seventeen years ago when we moved in. Even before we moved in, when we drove on the neighborhood streets, people waved to us from their yards. They didn't even know us yet.

We're a very welcoming bunch. There's a new young family on the corner of our cul de sac.

"We love the neighborhood," said Jamey, the mom, to me one day shortly after they moved in. "Everybody's been so nice. People leave treats on the doorstep day and night. My parents can't believe it. Every time the doorbell rings, I call my mom and say 'Guess what we just got!'"

Another young family has recently moved into the house right next door to us. It was previously inhabited by a woman from Iran. She was a very nice neighbor. She used to bring me homemade hummus, candied orange peel, pistachio cookies flavored with rose water, and other Persian delights. But unfortunately Jamileh extended the neighborhood welcome mat a little too far. Apparently in Iran, it's considered lucky to have birds roosting on your house. Some local barn swallows caught wind of this and showed up a few years ago. With Jamileh's encouragement, they built their nest of mud and sticks on the brick face of her covered porch, just above the front door. They've returned and rebuilt each year and have raised several broods of young barn swallows.

I'm afraid barn swallows aren't a good fit in our neighborhood. They're not exactly friendly. If you tresspass on what they consider their domain, which very selfishly includes all the front yards in our cul de sac (our front yards -is it really possible to tresspass on your own property?), they dive at you. It's quite intimidating. Hitchcockian, in fact. Even teenagers are terrified of them. I think one of our neighbor boys is permanently traumatized. He's had some run-ins with Jamileh's barn swallows in past years. Literal run-ins. Last summer he was afraid to leave his house. And he's a big strong athlete. He's on the basketball team. If word gets over to the high school of Weston running through our front yards with his hands over his head shrieking like a girl, his senior year could be a wash.

The new owners of the house next door arrived this spring about the same time as the barn swallows. As the Davies Family was busy settling in, the barn swallows were busy spackling the brick above the front door with mud for their new nest.

Weston's mom, Beth, whose house is on the other side of this one, gave the new neighbors a quick lesson in Iranian culture.

"You're not superstitous, are you?" she asked. They weren't. Amie, the mom, had already been on the Internet, looking for ideas on how to humanely evict the would-be tennants. She'd come up with Saran-wrapping the brick and hanging a tangle of fishing line over the construction site. Word has it that barn swallows are freaked out by fishing line. Beth offered to help.

They knocked down the most recent application of mud and covered the spot with plastic wrap. The birds, after much angry swooping and diving, simply moved their efforts over a little bit. Beth created an apparatus out of fishing line and paint stirrers, and helped Amie hang it. Eventually, they Saran-Wrapped the entire porch. After a few days of aggressive battling on both sides, the birds gave up.

 On Sunday morning, as I was leaving for church, I saw Beth and her daughter, Callie, on their own front porch. They were hanging fishing line and strings of beads in the vicinity of their front door. Ha!

We live in a very friendly neighborhood. We don't care what color your skin is. We don't care if you have an accent that is different than ours. We don't care what religion you are. Liberal? That's okay. We just won't discuss politics. And generally, we don't care if you have pointy beaks and feathers. But if you try to trap our teenagers in the house with us all summer, we're going to do our best to drive you out.

By the way, Beth succeeded in discouraging the barn swallows from taking up residency on her porch.

This morning as I stepped out on my own porch, a barn swallow swooped at my head. I immediately retalliated by knocking down the mud and getting out the plastic wrap. I'm sure Beth and Amie will help me if I need them to.

This is a great neighborhood.