WEEVIL AT THE CABIN
Just after daybreak John, with Weevil helping, loaded the box
trailer with two doors and four windows. Then they drove off
out of town and along the bush road as far as they could
towards the clearing and the cabin. John was very pleased with
his purchase of the doors and windows which were of solid oak,
having been sold as scrap when an old school was wrecked in
town. They were in excellent condition but must have had ten
coats of all colours of paint on them. Today would be a great
day for John and Weevil because if they could hang all the
doors and windows, the cabin which already had covering on all
the walls and roof would be completely enclosed for the first
The doors were heavy to carry, but between them they finally
managed to bring everything to the site. Then with shims and
trim and using a mitre box for the corners John managed to
get all four windows hung by lunch time.
They had seen a small black and white bird which seemed to be busy near the cabin.
John and Weevil had just finished packing up their food
supplies after lunch when they heard a sharp tap followed
instantaneously by a small thud, which sounded as though it
came from a window. They went at once to the window where
the sound seemed to come from, and at first saw nothing
unusual. Then they noticed a bird lying on its back, eyes
legs up in air and toes curled, motionless. John picked
it up tenderly and held it in his hands. Its feathers quickly
transmitted warmth back and
forth to his hands, and both
John and Weevil marvelled at
how delicately the bird was
made. It had a black and white
striped back, a white part under
its wings at the back of its body,
its back and head were shaped
like that of a woodpecker, with a
red spot on top of its head. Its breast was white and outer tail
feathers were barred white on black. Its beak was quite slender. John put his other hand over it to keep it warm
and in a few moments it opened its beak and closed it again.
Weevil stood quite still, entranced by its beauty.
"It must have tried to fly through the cabin windows, seeing
the light on the other side," said John.
"Do you think it will live?" asked Weevil, who was famous for his
"We'll do what we can," said John, "it must have been a great
shock, and the first thing is to keep it as warm as possible. As
I hold it, it is such a tiny body inside all its feathers."
After a few moments Weevil began talking to it, very gently.
"There, there," he said, "you won't worry will you, we'll keep you
warm until you recover, just relax, and take it easy"....he went
crooning softly to the bird in his small young voice, and soon
the bird opened one eye very slightly, with the eyelid still
drawn over most of it, and almost at once slowly closed it again.
"What kind of bird is it?" asked Weevil, as he continued talking
softly to the bird. He began stroking its head very gently and
it responded by moving its head very slightly.
"I think," said John, "it's a downy woodpecker; such a delicate
little bird. The red spot means it's a male."
They both continued talking gently and softly to the bird: John
keeping it warm in his hands, while Weevil stroked its head and
neck very gently. After five minutes or so the bird opened its
eyes, shrugged itself a little as if to nestle more closely into
John's hands, and then closed its eyes again, apparently quite
Weevil and John sat down on the doorstep and continued their
treatment. After another five or ten minutes John said, "I
really must get back to work if I am to hang these doors
He slowly turned his hands so that the bird was more upright,
and began to open his hands a little. The bird opened the eye
nearer to him, moved it legs just slightly, easily circled his
thumb with both toes, lay back against his other hand and
closed its eyes again. Weevil was now able to stroke both the
top of its head and its breast as well, and it showed every sign
of contentment and convalescence. Its grip on John's thumb
was very firm.
John tried very slowly to detach the bird's toes from his
thumb, but the moment he had done so it promptly reattached
them, settled back and closed its eyes again.
This treatment must have gone on for half an hour, and finally
John gently disengaged it from his thumb and transferred it to
Weevil, where it reattached itself after a careful glance at its
new, smaller host. The bird must have been tended by Weevil
for almost a full hour, while John busied himself with hanging
the doors. Suddenly the bird perked up, its eyes were fully
opened, it looked from side to side, it studied both John and
Weevil, then with a quick flutter of wings it was airborne and
flew perhaps fifteen feet to a nearby tree trunk. Weevil
walked quickly over to stand near it in case it would fall, but it
did not, nor did it show any fear of him. Then after another
five minute pause it flew away to a large decaying limb of a
yellow birch tree, and entered a hole about 12 feet above
Weevil walked over to that tree and stood below it. Coming
from the hole in the tree, he could faintly hear the sound of
very small fledglings cheeping and the parent bird making some
response. He strained his ears very hard to try to hear more
and to understand what they were saying. Incredibly enough,
gradually he found he could pick out certain words, although
the voices were very thin and shrill.
"Food! Food!" the little ones said.
"Soon, little ones," said the parent bird. "I hurt my head and
need to rest first."
Before Weevil could become too amazed at what he had heard,
another parent bird flew into the hole in the yellow birch tree.
Almost at once a terrible cackling and squawking arose, and this
time Weevil could hear clearly what went on.
Apparently the newcomer was the mother bird who shouted,
"You good-for-nothing husband, here am I left to feed these
youngsters of ours while you go off and enjoy yourself for half
a day. Just sunning and feeding yourself, I suppose, while I do
all the work of two birds."
"I flew into something I didn't see and it almost killed me. I
haven't really recovered yet, my head hurts so much I wish
you'd stop squawking at me."
"A fine story, that is," said the mate, "just an excuse for your
laziness. You look perfectly well to me."
At this point Weevil got very upset. He didn't know quite how
it happened, but his tongue seemed to take on a more pointed
shape and his mouth and lips were pursed differently. He
found himself whistling and squawking in great style and
somehow realized he was saying:
"Now you listen to me, Mrs. Downy, because what he is saying
is quite true."
The mother bird poked her head out of the tree and looked
down at Weevil in astonishment.
"You keep out of this," she shrieked, "whoever you are....you're
probably just as good for nothing as my husband here, moaning
about his head while I have all the work to do."
"Now you listen to me," Weevil whistled back. "We just put
windows in the cabin here and your poor husband flew right into
one, he was so keen to get back to the nest. I think he nearly
choked on the grub he was carrying," Weevil added a little
untruthfully, because he didn't know this for sure, although it
was what had actually happened.
"I won't listen to another word of your nonsense," screamed the
mother bird, but she did not draw her head back into the hole
in the tree.
"Well," Weevil shouted back to her, "if my father down here
hadn't kept him warm and nursed him he would have died where
he fell, then you wouldn't have a husband any more. You just
think about that."
And feeling absolutely furious, he turned and stalked away back
towards the cabin. The downy drew back into the nest and said
no more, and in a moment or two Weevil caught a glimpse of her
as she flew by in search of more food for her offspring.
When Weevil reached the cabin again his father John said,
"What on earth was all that noise the birds were making over
by the yellow birch just now?"
"I think they were quarrelling," said Weevil, which for him was
a remarkable understatement. He wandered away to the other
end of the clearing, and tried to twist up his tongue and pucker
his lips again, but could only manage some kind of an ordinary
whistle. And the bird song sounded just like ordinary bird song
again, as he listened.
But there was a strange aftermath to the incident. For the
rest of that summer and fall, and the next year, quite often
when Weevil or John were near the cabin, a male downy
woodpecker would fly to the bole of a tree only four or five
feet from them, and peck its way up the tree without a word,
before it flew away again.
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