Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Urge to Kill a Mockingbird

Have you ever wondered about Harper Lee's title (To Kill a Mockingbird)? The mockingbird in Lee's novel has been said to represent the main victim of the novel, Tom Robinson. But what about real mockingbirds, in real life. Let me enlighten you. People DO have the urge to kill mockingbirds. Even today.

Yes, they are handsome little birds. Yes, they sing varied, beautiful little recitals. Yes, they are industrious and curious harbingers of spring, full of personality as they flit around, alight on the ground, and cock their perky little bird heads from side to side, as if perusing a situation. And yes, they can drive you totally crazy.

When we moved back to Alabama years ago, we moved into my husband's grandparents' house. The back yard had been neglected with nothing much back there, just three giant Hackberry trees, an old rose bush, a rusted clothesline, and a few weeds that passed for grass when mowed. Muscadine vines had entertwined themselves in the tall canopy of the trees, blocking most all sunlight from reaching the yard below. My children were small and the back yard was relatively cool in the summer. We hung a rope swing from a Hackberry branch and planned to give the children freedom. The mockingbirds were not pleased.

I had encountered the mockingbirds once or twice already but tried to ignore them. They hung out on the clothesline, owning it like wary guerilla rebels, and when I walked out the back door with a bag of garbage headed for the trash cans in the alley, they became vocal. One of two of them would fly low toward me each time as if on a reconnaisance mission. When my husband mowed the weeds, they flew all around in angry little passes. By the time we hung the rope swing, they had had enough. We were invading their territory where they were raising their own babies. The mockingbirds began swooping closer and closer to my head each time I went out the back door. Finally, two of them actually attacked me. It felt as if they had hit the top of my head with a glancing blow from their beaks, like the Hitchcock movie The Birds. And something else: there was a wet glob in my hair. I had actually been attacked and pooped on by low flying birds.

I loosed the big weapon at this point. We had moved to Alabama with a giant Persian cat. Sylvester was an inside cat, but that day I let him roam the back yard, which created quite a stir from the mockingbirds. I wasn't about to let him find their fat fledgling offspring on the ground as they learned to fly. But they didn't know that. They squawked and screamed and dive-bombed Sylvester like crazy. He was a very big, mild-mannered cat and didn't seem to pay them much attention. By the time I let the kids out to play on the rope swing, the birds seemed relieved the only menace in the yard was small and human.

Twenty years later, the mockingbirds (their offspring, I presume) are still with us. They no longer dive bomb us in the back yard, however. Nowadays fifty of them perch on a tree limb next to my bedroom window every morning well before dawn and sing every song they know and make up a few especially loud and cacophonous ones.

No, I will not kill even one of these mockingbirds. Killing just one wouldn't do any good anyway. But I understand perfectly WHY someone might be tempted to kill a mockingbird.

1 comment:

San said...

Anita, I didn't know that mockingbirds were so territorial. Yes, that attack was very Hitchcockian. Glad you had Sylvester to mark some boundaries for the kids.

Here in the desert we do battle with the gophers, who eat the hollyhocks from the roots up. But so far, they haven't physically attacked US. And no, they don't sing either. It's the coyotes who sing.