I’ve finally been able to start riding my bike to and from work, my damaged knee finishing up the healing process. Ya, I know, I didn’t post about my damaged knee. I don’t post my whole life here people! But whatever, I partially tore my MCL in an Improv class and now it’s better enough that i can ride my bike again, and also gas prices are stupid, and also IT’S SPRING HERE FINALLY!
So last Friday, I’m biking down the bike trail across town. (Just one of the many cool things about Olympia is that there is a bike trail that roughly parallels the freeway all the way across town. And the bonus cool of it is that as a young-ish female-looking person, I can ride my bike alone on this trail after dark and the most dangerous thing that has ever happened to me on it is that I almost ran into a deer once.) There’s a good mile of the trail on the way home that is precisely the right slope for my tires, so that I don’t have to either pedal or brake and I coast along at just the right speed, observing the lush fern-y undergrowth and amazing big-leaf maple trees that surround the trail. So on Friday, I’m coasting along, and catch a little movement out of the corner of my eye, just as I’m coasting past. There is a small (maybe 1 or 2 feet wide) swath of grass that’s mown short on either side of the trail. And hunkered down in that swath, right next to the trail, is a bird. I roll past, but it sticks in my mind that that’s an odd place for a bird to be hanging out. I stop my bike and pedal back slowly to where the bird is still sitting next to the trail.
I stop a respectful distance away, and on the far side of the path, and try not to intimidate the bird. I look everywhere but directly at the bird, just watching it out of my periphery. It’s a robin, and eventually it turns a bit and I see the streaking on its breast that indicates a juvenile. But it has all of its flight feathers and seems full-grown, as if it should be able to fly. We hang out there, on opposite sides of the path, for several minutes. There is a Swainson’s thrush calling in the distance. Someone just asked me recently if I had ever seen a Swainson’s or only heard them. It’s unusual to see them, as they’re very shy. So I stood and listened to this one as it seemed to call from trees closer and closer to the trail. Eventually, I saw it fly from one side of the trail to the other, landing in a big-leaf maple right next to the trail and calling out its upward spiraling song. All the while, the juvenile robin stayed hunkered down in the short grass next to the trail. A couple of bicycles went by quickly and didn’t seem to notice it, although it flinched each time. Anytime someone approached, I would look the other direction to avoid calling attention to it. Eventually, a 20-something guy with his dog came walking up the trail. As he got close enough that I didn’t have to yell, but far enough away that the dog hadn’t noticed the bird yet, I let the guy know that there was this baby bird on the side of the road that he probably didn’t want his dog getting into. He shortened up the leash and walked on the other side of the trail and thanked me for the heads up. The bird stayed motionless except for the heavy breathing that I could see even from across the trail. After a few more minutes, I could see that there were a couple of adult robins keeping a close eye on the situation and I thought that maybe I was standing too close, even at the distance I was at, for them to come in to help the fledgling. And in the time that I had been watching, I had seen the bird take a few steps, enough so that I could tell it wouldn’t be easily caught even if it did need my help, and I decided that all I would be able to accomplish was to further traumatize it. Best to leave it to its parents, i figured, who are infinitely more competent to take care of a baby robin than I am.
I turned my bike back down the path, and coasted 20 or 30 feet down the path, when an adult male robin streaked past my right shoulder, close enough to startle me, and landed in the path directly in front of my bike. He landed only for a second, but close enough that if he had stayed, I wouldn’t have been able to avoid running over him. I was on my brakes when he flew up to a branch just below eye level on the side of the path. I was already on the brakes, so I stopped and looked at him. He looked directly at me. First with one eye, then with the other, and then directly at me with both eyes (which I’ve never really seen a bird do before), as if to say “Are you REALLY paying attention?” I was far enough away from the juvenile that I didn’t get any sense this was threatening behavior, or intended to chase me away. It was a communication, but not an aggressive one. I stayed still and tried to broadcast the energy of an attentive herbivore. The robin, as if it wasn’t sure that I was really for real paying attention, hopped from the branch, and flew straight towards me. Even though I knew for certain that he knew I was standing there, I couldn’t help but flinch when it seemed like he didn’t see me and was going to run into me. At the last second, he veered off, landing at the base of a small deer trail that I hadn’t noticed, heading up the side hill into the maple forest. He folded and refolded his wings twice, the way they do, glanced at me, and started searching the ground for things to eat, seemingly unconcerned. I didn’t know what that meant. I’m out of practice at my animal communications.
I took two steps towards him, and he flew directly up the trail, staying at about my eye level from the ground, over the rise until I couldn’t see him. Well, what can you do, but follow. Even with a still partially torn MCL and wearing flip flops and clambering up a steep sandy sidehill trail. So I followed. Once I headed up the trail, he flew off, maybe back to the fledgling by the trail. I followed the trail up to the top of the rise to the first crossroads. The trail seemed more well used than just some deer would account for, and this being Olympia, I figured someone’s camp was probably back here somewhere. I stood at the crossroads for a while, watching. And, well, nothing in particular happened. There was no pot of gold. No genie appeared to grant me any wishes. I watched a towhee talking to some babies in the nest. I could hear someone’s little yappy dog in the distance. The persistent sound of the freeway through the trees. A Swainson’s thrush sang in the distance, maybe the same one as before. I walked a little way down one branch of the trail, to a spot that had been someone’s camp previously. Two mismatched socks on the ground, a half-buried pair of underwear, a crumpled cigarette pack. No wolves slipped by in the cool green distance. Not even a raccoon, that I saw. I started to worry about my bike, left unattended by the well-traveled path below, out of sight. I shrugged, and headed back to the trail, and coasted the rest of the way down the hill. But maybe I missed it, whatever it was. I’ll stop again today. And maybe tomorrow too.