Thursday, March 24, 2011

Backyard funeral

Esther came running into the kitchen yesterday afternoon, breathless and rosy, to tell me the funeral was about to start.

"What funeral?" I asked.

"For the bird that Jesse killed," she said.

Jesse, is the neighbor's cat. She spends a lot of time in this house, skulking around corners, crawling into drawers as if she lives here. I am forever shooing her out of the house and am amazed at how indignant she acts, as if I am in the wrong. I'm not a cat hater, by any means. But I'm also not a cat lover. Cat hair makes my eyes itch. Cat hair makes Isla's eyes itch, and water, and stuffs up her nose and causes her to wheeze. Allergies speak louder than lazy, strokeable cuteness.

And then there is that annoying tendency cats have to hunt beautiful animals, like birds, simply for the sport of it. Instinct aside, I have never found this little quirk all that attractive. And how to explain murderous feline behavior to my children, without turning them into cat haters--no creature deserves hate, except, perhaps, the Lyme-carrying deer tick--proves challenging.

Esther is angry at Jesse for killing the bird. When she and her friend Oliver, who owns the cat,  spotted Jesse with the bird in her proud mouth, Oliver kicked a soccer ball at her to scare her away. When they got to the bird, Esther discovered it was too late.

When I got there, Essie and Oliver had already dug a hole, placed the bird in it, sprinkled it with wild violets, and were waiting for the mourners to come. Isla and I arrived, then Gail, Oliver's mom showed up. Just as we were ready to begin, Ian came around the corner, just home from work.

We stood, silent and reverent, around the mourning children, as they took turns covering the bird with soft earth. Isla kept letting out these sympathetic, disappointed, tongue clucks. "Poor poor birdy."

Since it was a French bird, we guessed, the rites were read in French.

"Dors bien, petit Oiseau."(Sleep well, little bird.)

"Dors bien."


Leslie said...

Hi, I just found your blog (and I am horrible and COMPLETELY forget how) and I connected immediately. I am a US citizen married to a Russian living in England! Life is bananas.

I love that you had a funeral for the bird. What a great learning experience for the kids in so many ways. I have to disagree with you about the hunting though. It is not pretty or easy to watch, but it IS the cycle of life. Cats will typically eat what they hunt if given the chance, even if they are house pets, and there are lots of lessons to be learned there as well, non?

Betsy said...

Leslie: Glad you found me, however you did. About the cats and their hunting ways, I know, I know. I was simply born with a weak heart. :)

cecile said...

Oh my god, I cannot count how many birds are buried in my garden in the house I lived in... (in Rochegude, just south of Orange). I kept trying to rescue them from my cat's mouth, I even had a few live a few days, but then it was even more difficult to see them die. Maybe that's what pushed me to med school ? You never know ! Dors bien, petit oiseau.

Kristina said...

Hi Betsy. I, too, love that you had a funeral for a bird. It sounds like something we'd do. Beautiful posts and pictures.

Whit said...

When I was a kid we buried quite a few birds in the yard, usually in Pop Tart boxes as they were the perfect coffin size.

Apparently we ate a lot of Pop Tarts.

Betsy said...

Whit: I was partial to chocolate and cinnamon. Never really liked the fruity ones.

Laree said...

can we add Fire ants to your dear tick list?

Our neighbor's cat is quite the hunter. Mostly he sticks to bunnies. Which, oddly enough, I don't mind. Having grown up in a rather rabbit free area, trying to garden with infestations of bouncing pests has been a challenge.

I just don't want to see the process!

Shroomy said...

I'm suddenly reminded of the time I learned about cats and hunting. I've been a cat person for a long as I can remember, but when I was very young (5 maybe) we were foolish enough to have a cat and a chick. The cat, of course, caught the chick and bit its head off, and we caught it before it ate the whole thing. I remember blood and sitting on my mother's lap, wailing. All animals hunt and eat other animals - we may not hunt down our own hamburgers, but nearly all animals are guilty of eating other animals. Since the Tweety incident, seeing it hasn't really bothered me. Maybe I'm desensitized? :P

MJP said...

I lived in apartments until I was in high school, and aside from summers spent with various relatives at the lake, never really got a chance to connect with nature. As heartbreaking as this was (even though I personally find birds annoying...), what a great learning opportunity for your girls! Many students I work with wouldn't know what to do with a dead bird, because they spend so much time inside watching tv... There is a fascinating book called "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv that addresses Nature Deficit Disorder (something that looks like your girls don't need to worry about, and a 'disorder' I strive to avoid with my daughters). It's a good read.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the (many) reasons we keep our 2 cats inside. We get the cuteness without the risk of harm to any other animals :)