Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Save It Forward

     I started writing this blog entry just before the great winter of our discontent landed on Boston and its environs.  In order to keep up with snowstorm after snowstorm, I delayed finishing this entry until now.  It takes place in a city that is special to me for many reasons.

      The above photo I took late December from the Top of the Hub, the wonderful restaurant at the top of the Prudential Center on Boylston Street.   My daughter Marleny had just been declared free of Hepatitis C  thanks to a recently FDA approved drug.  At the time of writing this, Marleny is one of one hundred in the US to be cured of this dreadful virus that affects over one hundred and fifty million worldwide.  She likely contracted Hep C either from her birth mother in Colombia while in utero or in early childhood.  Finally, her heroic struggle, coupled with yet another wonder of modern medicine has paid off.  That miserable virus is now gone, banished from her system!  My husband Jim, son Alec, his girlfriend Kez, myself, and, of course, Marleny were there to celebrate.

   As you can see, the view from the Top of the Hub of this glorious city is amazing.  At the bottom of the image is the Public Garden, the first public garden in the U.S.  At the bottom of the image, partially obscured by a hotel, is the pond, referred to as the "Lagoon," where in lovely weather the swan boats give leisurely rides to tourists and people like me.  

      Almost all public gardens have flocks of pigeons, and so it is in Boston.  This brings us to another part of our celebration:  Meet "Midgeon," short for Midge the Pidge, the Garden's newest resident pigeon.  How do I know she's the newest? I know because because we brought her there.


      Now why would I do that?  Aren't there enough pigeons flying around Boston defacing its buildings.  Yes.  Aren't there enough pigeons in Boston cadging handouts from visitors and citizens sitting on the city's benches.  Yes.  Don't they so dominate the public parks that we are bored by their beautiful iridescent gray plumage? Yes.

       Answer:  I find it next to impossible to walk away from any creature that appears injured or failing.  And when I first saw Midge in mid-December in Alewife, a subway and bus station in Cambridge, she was definitely failing.  Squatting on the floor, apparently too weak or sick to take notice, much less get out of the way of the many people rushing to catch their subways.   When I scooped her up and placed her under my coat she offered no resistance and expressed no fear, though she certainly must have felt it. 

       As soon as I got home I placed her in a pet carrier.  Then, following the advice Dr. Jay Merriam, my wonderful equine vet of over thirty years, I first warmed her with a heat lamp, then gently pried open her beak, and gave her some Gatorade.  After an hour she still wasn't moving, but her eyes were alert and open.

       By morning she busied herself eating crumbled crackers and scrambled egg that I'd placed in a dish.  She now had enough strength and awareness to view me with caution and move to the back of the carrier when I came near.

       A few days later I placed her on a perch in a large pen in our basement that I used to keep our young chickens until they were old enough, and the weather was warm enough, for them to go outside.  Over the next several days she regained her health, strengthened her wings, and started flying about.

       Now what?  Well, I certainly couldn't keep her.  She needed a flock, preferably her flock at Alewife.  However, and perhaps one of the reasons she got into to trouble in the first place, was the construction of the station.  Largely made of glass and with places of open access, it was easy for birds to find their way in but not so easy for them to find their way out.  Midge was not the only pigeon in trouble that day.  Walking up the stairs to the elevator, I saw another pigeon--dead. Pigeons mate for life, and I wondered if this poor fellow had been Midge's partner.  

       Here let me add a few words about pigeons.  They really should be called rock doves, that is their proper name.  As is usual with critters that we find in excess, they are not native to the United States, they were brought here by us.  Like the invasive starling, they weren't meant to be here.
Rock doves generally roost on cliffs and other flat stone formations.  What are cities but inviting, albeit man-made, stone formations?  

       So, owing to the construction of the station and, perhaps, the loss of a mate, I decided to keep Midge until we went into Boston to celebrate Marleny's recovery.  Almost every child in this country knows the book Make Way For Ducklings, which takes place in Boston.  And, actually, Boston still does this.  Nearly every year there is a local news story of a potential duckling catastrophe or two averted by intervening Bostonians.   

       Of course, real ducks live on the Boston Garden's Lagoon and there are flocks of pigeons who roost under the foot bridge at night.  We also have two swans, Romeo and Juliet, who winter at the Franklin Park Zoo but at the end of April the pair head up a parade celebrating their return, which is followed by their actual release onto the lagoon.  In addition to being gorgeous, they are testament to Boston's celebration of diversity. Romeo and Juliet are both female!  They are amorous, one or both lay eggs, infertile of course. 

       Here's a photo of one of the Boston swans' predecessors I took over twenty years ago:

      Boston Swan                                                                                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015
      The Boston swan boats, an icon of the city, have been operated by the Paget family since 1877.  Originally Inspired by the gallant rescue of a heroine on the back of a swan in the opera Lohengrin, and the growing popularity of the bicycle, these dual-pontooned boats, ferry tourists about the Lagoon in leisurely fashion.

       Here is a  picture of my son Alec at age nine (he is now thirty) at the Garden with the arched neck of a swan belonging to one of dual pontooned swan boats in the background.   

      With its ducks, pigeons, and swans, the Public Garden in Boston seemed the perfect place to release Midge.  Here we are, just a few feet from the Lagoon.  From left to right: Kezia, opening the pet carrier, Jim, Marleny, and Alec:

She didn't fly off as we expected but felt secure enough to grab a little piece of bread:

She walked about a little before thinking of taking flight:


       She soared high and low. . . 

. .  . and then she returned and landed almost at our feet:

   Midgeon                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       We stayed for a few more take-offs and landings but then were on our way, Alec and Kez to have a night on the town while Jim, Marleny, and I returned to Acton.


                                                                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

                                                                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       Boston Garden pigeons seem to have good company and I hope Midge is able to overcome her natural homing instincts and elects to remain there for the rest of her days.

       Here are some interesting facts about rock doves that might cause some pause among those who refer to these birds as flying rats:

       Pigeons are considered one of the most intelligent birds on the planet.  For example, they can recognize their own reflection in a mirror. Only six other animals can do that, all primates.

       They can recognize all twenty-six letters of the alphabet.

         They contributed greatly to the Allied cause in both world wars.  They have terrific vision and were carried on airborne search and rescue missions over the oceans.  When they spotted an orange lifejacket, they would alert the crew with a series of pecks.  Thousands were saved.

       Troops who parachuted behind or near enemy lines often carried pigeons with them in order to return valuable information about troop location and strength.  The brave patriots jumped out of a variety of air transports carrying their birds in slings designed by an American brassiere company.

        Rock dove 'GI Joe' was awarded the Dickin Medal For Gallantry by the Lord Mayor of London.  It is Britain highest medal of honor for a service animal.  What did little Joe do to merit this?  It seems the Americans were about to bombard a bit of Italian land occupied by the Germans.  Suddenly, however, the Germans retreated and British 5th Infantry moved in filling the void.  Radio transmissions to halt the bombing failed to get through.  GI Joe was dispatched with a message and flew twenty miles in twenty minutes.  Had he arrived five minutes later it is likely that the entire British unit would have been wiped out.

       French rock dove 'Cher Ami' transported critical information to the French, dodging artillery fire and poison gas.  Despite his efforts, one of his legs was shot off and he suffered a terrible chest wound. Happily, his surgery was a success, and he was able to attend the ceremony in which he awarded France's highest medal, "Le Croix de Guerre."

      In 1944, carrier pigeon Lucia di Lammermoor was apprehended by the Germans returning several days late with the following message:

       "To the American troops, Herewith we return a pigeon to you.  We have enough to eat. -- The German Troops." 

       No medal for Lucia, but I still think she deserves an 'A' for effort.

      Because of Midgeon, the common Rock Dove, I was able to have the joy and satisfaction of having helped a creature in need, as well as learning about the great impact these often despised birds have had on history.  Some of us would not have been born had it not been for these courageous creatures.

       My next entry will be about my encounter with the homing instincts of a totally different type of bird.  

       See you soon, and thank you for reading "The Windflower Weekly"  --


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