A story for Christmas

The following true account is excerpted from my book Shop Tails, which I’ve been working on sporadically and hope to complete in 2020.

Henry.

“Hey, Nance, look at this. We have a visitor.”

It was a fine day in early autumn, so the overhead door of the shop was up. I ran from the back of the building to find a mourning dove strutting across the floor, unfazed by the aliens looming over him. Was he sick? Injured?

I came closer. He stopped, but made no sign of flying away. I grabbed a cardboard box, thinking I’d take the bird to be looked at by a vet. I picked the bird up, surprised he let me handle him, and placed him gently inside.

 

“His wing is broken,” said the vet. “He’ll never fly again. Would you like us to euthanize him?”

Of course I didn’t want them to euthanize him. Apart from his wing, he seemed perfectly fine. Besides, it hadn’t been long since I’d let my partner, Dick, talk me into finding a new home for the parrot I’d adopted from a client. I missed having an everyday avian presence. If this one was doomed to die (let’s be honest; when you’re a flightless mourning dove in the wild, you’re what’s for dinner), he could at least have some kind of life with me.

I cobbled together a cage and put it in my office at home. The vet had recommended feeding him birdseed, so I bought some. I called him Henry.

When I was working in the office, I let Henry out of his cage. He showed no interest in me; for the most part he wandered around the room, flutter-hopping onto the desk and printer, sometimes gazing out the window to the backyard. He ate his food and drank his water. Cleaning up bird droppings became a familiar chore. There was never a spark of recognition, let alone affection, in his eyes—just a blank, wide-eyed stare. I still maintained that his abduction by aliens must be preferable to being ripped apart and eaten by an owl.

I had never been so close to a mourning dove and was struck by his subtle colors and lovely speckled wings. His pink feet were especially endearing.

***

The following spring we were finishing the house Dick had built at his shop property, where I worked. When we packed our trucks with bedding, food, the dogs, and my butterscotch cat, Joey, to spend our first night, I put Henry in his cage on the front seat next to me. As soon as we crested the hill about half a mile from the farm, he grew agitated, more alert than I’d seen him since the day he wandered into the shop. I didn’t know what to make of it. I took him into my new office and set his cage by the window facing one of the fields where Dick kept a small herd of buffalo.

buffalo

Mother and child. This is Ruth, the most prolific breeder of the herd, with one of her recently born babies.

The next morning I found that Henry hadn’t touched his food or water. He was still on high alert; he seemed to recognize where he was, and wanted urgently to be let out. I kept him another night, but he still wouldn’t eat or drink. If he kept this up, he was going to die anyway, so I figured I might as well let him go.

With a heavy heart I took his cage outside and set it on the deck railing. “Goodbye, Henry,” I said softly. “Please take care of yourself.” I opened the door. He hopped out onto the rail, then lifted himself up, testing his wings. He flew a tight circle around my head—think what you like, but it felt as though he was saying goodbye. Then he made a larger circle, higher up.

Tears rolled down my face. He flew higher and higher, in ever-widening circles, until, confident that his wings were sound, he soared over the field toward the shop, back on his way after a long, strange dream.—Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

8 responses to “A story for Christmas

  1. A new book!
    It really is Christmas.

  2. Great story, can’t wait read the rest of the book.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and Mark!

    Peg and Jim

    >

  3. Loving and letting go–so hard to do. Wonderful reminder of how love works.

  4. Lovely!

  5. Great story, can’t wait for your next book. Thanks for sharing.

  6. The Tale of Henry, The Oft’ Remeber’d Dove, made my holiday season! Thank you for sharing it.

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