A twenty-five year old water fountain sits in an area of my small garden that now well past its prime has subtlety transformed into something just a bit different than what it used to be. It was once a fully operational, eye catching, ever flowing ornamental water feature. Over the last several years it’s become a popular neighborhood gathering place, attracting many varieties of local birds who don’t mind at all that the gushing, gurgling, ornamental aspect of it is no longer functional. To them it’s a place of refreshment—a community pool to splash and bathe in. It’s a well shared hangout for sure where the doves and others don’t mind that the water pump gave out years ago. They have no idea that its broken.
The nearby fence separating my neighbor’s place from mine has become completely overgrown with gorgeous garnet bougainvillea, heavily scented jasmine, and newly blossoming honeysuckle, relaxedly spilling over onto my side of it. The overgrowth obscures my view of her collection of hanging bird feeders, varied in shape and size, each and every one being kept very, very well stocked. Its a great setup for the wild bird community as well as for those just passing through on their flight path to somewhere else. They come for the birdseed and stay for the complimentary spa amenities.
About a month or so before the pandemic was declared I noticed something unusual in the birdbath that seemed entirely out of place. There was a whitish, sort of grainy, crumbly something or other in the water. Perhaps the overzealous gardeners had tossed some sort of granulated fertilizer a bit too carelessly. I flushed it out with the hose then forgot about it. Some days later it appeared again. Then again and again in an increasing frequency until it was there in the water almost every day. Each time I’d spray plenty of water to clean and refresh the broken fountain, all the while wondering what on earth was going on.
With ample time to birdwatch, since we’d all been on stay-at-home orders, the mystery of the cloudy birdbath on Larkspur Lane became clear. For weeks I’d been working remotely upstairs in a cobbled together home office. Lunching downstairs in the dining room with a view to the birdbath had become a welcome break from hours of staring at dual computer screens. And that’s when I first saw him. A huge, shiny-black, menacing looking creature perched on the low garden gate and drinking from the broken fountain. A crow! There’d been a large and noisy flock of them that occasionally congregated in a nearby stand of towering trees but rarely had one of them made such a bold appearance on my property.
I was angry on behalf of my regular constituents—the sparrows, hummingbirds, gentle doves and skittish others who’d been enduring the muddying of their waters and the ominous presence of this marauder. But I was on to him now and finally saw with my own eyes what had been going on. He’d obtained a dried up crust of bread from a not too far away grocery store’s garbage. This clever creature was dropping the stale spoils from his dumpster dive into the water then casually devouring them as they softened up. Though I acknowledged this to be quite an intelligent process and even somewhat admired him for his cleverness it still upset me that he was mindlessly ruining things for the rest of the group. Clearly it worked well for him. And I suppose that’s how it goes sometimes. An efficient solution for one may affect others in proximity whether or not the perpetrator has direct knowledge of the effects of their actions.
After ongoing days of inconspicuously watching the crow’s self-serving behavior I noticed something else that my distain for his daily disruptions hadn’t allowed me to see before. As he went about the motions of his daily visit it became obvious that there was something different about him. He balanced only on one foot as he ate and drank at the fountain. While dipping and tearing off crow-sized bites of the soggy bread he protected his other foot from bearing his full body weight. I assume he had some sort of injury as he never once stood fully on both feet. He neither wobbled nor showed any tell-tale sign of disability having adapted to what was wrong with his injured foot.
I had not noticed that before.
More and more days of observation went by when I began to noticed my harsh feelings for this villain slowly changing and growing into something akin to compassion. A new daily routine developed consisting of curious observation followed by my flooding the fountain with fresh water once he’d flown away. I found myself resenting him less and less while becoming fairly enamored with his beauty and his cleverness despite his disability. Perhaps even because of it. A beautiful broken creature enjoying the benefits of a once beautiful, now broken fountain. There was so much to ponder about that . . .
Several more weeks of the crow’s daily visits came and went and then he skipped a day. Then three, then more. I no longer saw the intelligent and beautiful crow with the injured foot. He didn’t come around with his crumbly crusts of dried up bread anymore. Within a matter of days the doves and hummingbirds, even a new baby squirrel began to enjoy unrestricted use of the facilities once again. The water remained clear. No crumbly bits to hose away. No crow.
There was something in particular that I realized upon reflection—not solely of the actions of the crow but of my own initial reaction as well. Easy to come by judgements can shift over time when we become aware of, and are sympathetic to, an area of another’s brokenness. With some honest self awareness we may even be able to identify a similar disability of our own. How we’ve learned to accommodate, how we’re doing the best we can in light of a wound, a loss, a set-back. How that adaptation might perhaps have an unintended affect on others in proximity to us. The dawning of compassion arising from deep within the heart can clear the clouded mindset that may demonize the seemingly selfish behavior of a crow or perhaps even a more highly evolved species. Previously judged actions might possibly be perceived as understandable, if not justified, at the discovery of a wound—a part that somewhere along the journey had become broken.