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 time.

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 closed. 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 questions.

"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 on

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 contented.

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 today."

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 ground.

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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