I just killed two birds with one stick.
It was an innocent mistake. You see, for a few weeks now, my second-floor deck has been overrun with squirrels, three or four bushy-tailed rodents clawing at the floorboards, hissing and chattering, generally making a nuisance of themselves. While barbecuing on the porch beneath the deck, I looked up, saw a mound of dead grass dangling from the rafters and assumed I had discovered their hiding place.
Which is why I climbed a ladder, armed with a stick. One jab and the whole pile thudded to the ground. Strange squirrel nest, this. Surprisingly hefty, top heavy with a perfect little bowl, a tightly woven jumble of weeds and cassette tape and junk food wrappers cemented with mud. An overturned empty bowl. With a mess of albumen and yolk and flecks of sky-blue shell soaking the dirt beneath it. There must have been two eggs, but it's difficult to say with any degree of certainty.
Then I noticed the robin. Perched on my neighbor's fence, the bird had witnessed the whole thing and was now clearly agitated, twisting her head to the left and right, yellowish beak fluttering with an accusatory tut-tut-tut, instead of the usual exuberant cheery-up, cheery-me.
Can't say I blame her--me, with my dirty paws clutching her home, with her eggs scrambled at my feet. In a pathetic attempt to set things right, I climbed the ladder and tried to put the empty nest back as I had found it. There wasn't much I could do about the eggs, though.
Sure, I realize that sooner or later, the squirrels probably would've gotten to those eggs. And I understand that a common robin's nest in inner Northeast Portland isn't as ecologically important as, say, the peregrines' roost atop the Fremont Bridge.
But what I did still seemed significant, and wrong. It reminded me of how removed we city dwellers have become from the natural world, how little consideration we give to the wildlife around us. In the trees. On the ground. Beneath the ground. We don't--or sometimes can't--even see it.
And that's the problem.
Later this summer, a section of West Burnside will be closed to traffic for weeks as Tanner Creek is rerouted from the municipal sewer system to an alternate underground conduit. No doubt motorists will complain about the inconvenience. But will anybody wonder just what Tanner Creek is doing confined to a pipe beneath Burnside when it should be wandering free in its earthen banks through the heart of the Pearl District? Probably not. After all, the creek long ago was channeled underground for the sake of convenience, with little thought of the impact this might have on future generations of fish, or Portlanders. Because something is lost when a stream is treated like a nuisance, like so much sewage, banished forever from our sight.
No, compared to that injustice, the loss of two tiny blue eggs might not seem like much. But try explaining that to the robin tut-tutting in my back yard.