Today, when Kendell pulled into the driveway, he noticed an entire family of quail, walking across my neighbor's yard and into ours. The mom led the way, then the babies, and the dad swept the back. They walked into the wild mess of daylilies, weedy violets, and spent bleeding heart stems that is my west flowerbed, and Kaleb and I sat on the grass, far enough away not to disturb them, but close enough to admire the cuteness of those little balls of fluff.
I don't know why. They'd call and chirp and chortle to each other, and some would come out on the grass and others would stay hidden. A little crowd of neighborhood kids gathered around us, and perhaps that made them nervous, but soon the weaving and the searching ended. The dad hustled out of the flowers and about halfway across the grass, and then he started chirping, and babies started flying. One, two, three, four, five, six.
The mom hooted; the dad started leading the babies back into my neighbor's yard. But he stopped at their bush, gathered the babies around him, and squawked back. I swear: they were communicating.
The mom rushed out of my flowerbed and over to the neighbor's bush; more squawking and hooting, and then mom went back to the daylilies and hooted again, a softer yet more urgent sound.
She came out of the daylilies and went back in.
And I decided this was their conversation:
"We have these six babies over here, honey! What are you waiting for!" hooted the dad.
"These other two babies over here! Remember them? They won't get out of the flowers!" squawked the mom.
"Oh no! We have these six babies and those two babies! What will we do?"
"I'll try again. Come on, little ones. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go!"
"Are they coming? Is everything OK?" chirped the dad.
"No! not OK! Definitely not OK!" squawked the mom.
And then I thought...really: why is the mom staying over there? Why aren't the last two babies flying out like the others? So, on one of the mom's excursions to discuss with the dad, I tiptoed over. And quickly discovered the problem: the two missing babies had fallen into the window well behind the greenery.
They were trying to flutter out, but they were too young and the well was too deep.
Well, I couldn't just leave them there! So I put on my gardening gloves and I hopped, carefully, into the well, making sure not to land on them. They were almost the same color as the stones at the bottom, except for the slight texture to their wings and the puff of their bodies.
I crouched down, and I tried to catch them, one at a time.
It took awhile. They didn't trust me, of course, and my presence made them even more agitated. Mom was fluttering and swooping around, right where my head would be if I stood up. But I just stayed crouched, murmuring, waiting. I didn't want to hurt them in the process of saving them.
As I waited for the right opportunity, I thought about how often, lately, I feel just like that mom. My babies are starting to flutter out into the world on their own, and it's hard to keep track of them all. It's a large world with so many ways to fall. And I guess you just have to hope that you can trust the people who try to help them, and flutter protectively, and squawk at them.
(Even though I know you're not supposed to flutter too close. I'll try.)
Finally I managed to cup (carefully) one of the babies. I lifted it up to the dirt, and the mom immediately squawked. The baby flew into the grass, and then I tried to catch the last one. I was being so careful, as it seemed so fragile, and I finally got it into my cupped hands. But I didn't keep them tight enough, as just as I almost had it to the surface, it flew out and fell back down.
So I crouched again, and I murmured. Something about knowing it was afraid, but I was really trying to help it, and its dad and mom were waiting and not to worry and then at last I got it again, and put it in the dirt. The mom stopped fluttering around my head; she chirped that "get going!" chirp, and the last baby flew to its family.
They'd vanished back into my neighbor's yard before I could get out of the window well. (Which, by the way, was not a graceful exit.)
I looked for them for a very short minute, thinking about the book Are You My Mother, which I can't read without crying. I was probably very Snort-ish to those baby birds. I wasn't their mother. But I managed to help them all the same, and I think I have to trust that. Trust that there will be other people who will help my little fledglings.
And hope that sometimes they'll want to fly back to me.