WHAT A CURIOUS CHARACTER is the Towhee.
The Spotted Towhee, to be precise. And I use the term “curious” in the “curiouser and curiouser” sense of Wonderland’s Alice, rather than in the inquisitive sense.
Galley Cat, currently curled up in my lap with her head resting on my right wrist so as to make typing on my laptop a silly and awkward exercise, has developed a distinct, cold-like snuffle in recent days. So, I’m not letting her out to wander on her own this damp and cold January day. If Barbara was around she’d fashion a cat sweater by cutting an old woolen sock with holes for arms and head. I’m not as textilely handy, and have no socks to spare.
But Galley demands her daily dirt time. So I took my insistent little cat out on her leash for a quick walk to the end of our road and back. It’s not far, but she considers it an adventure.
No neighbors are present this time of year, and the winter gales, for once, had ceased. The only sound meeting our ears as we walked was the quiet crunch of my shoes on the road’s sparse gravel. Galley padded silently beside me, her tail up and ears twitching.
Then came the skittering.
“Thar be Towhees, Cap’n!” a barrelman might cry from the crow’s nest if we were shipboard.
Towhees, which look a bit like robins with freckled backsides, are ground feeders. On our island, they tend to skitter around at the base of salal bushes, likely in search of fallen berries this time of year. In such a pursuit, they often remain unseen, allowing imagination to work overtime as a lonely man and his cat peer from the road to see what nefarious creature might lurk in the tall bushes.
It reminded me of “The Wind in the Willows” story when the over-adventurous Mole sets off into the Wild Wood, an often forbidding place full of peering faces, intimidating whistles and mysterious pattering, as in this passage:
“He thought it was only falling leaves at first, so slight and delicate was the sound of it. Then as it grew it took a regular rhythm, and he knew it for nothing else but the pat-pat-pat of little feet, still a very long way off. Was it in front or behind? It seemed to be first one, then the other, then both. It grew and it multiplied, till from every quarter as he listened anxiously, leaning this way and that, it seemed to be closing in on him.”
For the frightened Mole, the pattering came from nasty stoats or wicked weasels. For Galley and me, it was only Towhees.
Our clue came as we heard the birds’ characteristic call, a brief, whinging cry that Cornell Lab describes as a “catlike mew.” (Galley resents such species profiling.) To me it sounds like a petulant child asking “What? What?”
This told us there were no stoats. No lurking foxes. Just a few skittering Towhees.
Switching now from Grahame to Frost: The woods were lovely, dark and deep, but we were grateful we did not have miles to go before we sleep. We toddled the few yards back to the cabin unmolested, Galley to convalesce, me to try to type with a cat chin weighing down my wrist.
It’s awkward, and silly, and I’ve written enough.