JULY (The Storm)
Yellow Ribbon in July
At last Yellow Ribbon and Cat Chaser have only themselves to feed. Now days are filled with long, pleasant hours spent dozing, preening and eating, for these are days when fat lost during the nesting days can be restored.

Something important is going on inside Yellow Ribbon. The close bonds that all spring and summer united her with Cat Chaser and the nest now are melting away. To Yellow Ribbon, every day Cat Chaser is becoming more and more just another bird and the nest now seems cramped and uninteresting.

The same thing is not happening inside Cat Chaser. In fact, on July 2 once again we find him perching beside his column-top nest making chirup calls. Yellow Ribbon isn't responding to his song, however. In fact, now when Cat Chaser makes signs that he wants to mate, Yellow Ribbon just flies away.

Yes, now instead of dealing with family duties Yellow Ribbon prefers to dust- bathe beneath the portable classroom and to fly alone into new parts of town. In a way, her lack of interest in beginning a third brood is a little surprising. In the part of America where she and Cat Chaser live, House Sparrow couples often raise three broods each season.

On the morning of July 4th, the young, mateless female whose name is Lawn Hopper comes onto the scene. Hearing Cat Chaser's beautiful chirup- call, she visits him atop the marble column. Cat Chaser puffs out his chest, fans his tail, and hops in and out of his nest. Yellow Ribbon isn't there. She's far away, perching on a wire leading into Wright's Photography Shop, watching the traffic on West End Avenue.

On the hot, humid morning of July 4th, Lawn Hopper's arrival signals the end to the affair that has been going on between Yellow Ribbon and Cat Chaser.

On this day, Yellow Ribbon becomes independent of Cat Chaser and his nest. Now begins a completely new phase of Yellow Ribbon's life.

*****

On July 15th, at noon, Yellow Ribbon roosts in a large Sugarberry tree beside the city's railroad yard. This is a part of town our bird has never seen before. On the branches around her, about a dozen young House Sparrows perch preening and chirping.

Now, when House Sparrow fledglings mature enough to leave their parents, they join into flocks that roam over a wide area. In late summer these flocks are joined by adults who have finished nesting, and Yellow Ribbon has become the first adult to join this particular group. Though there is no way to know for sure, it's possible that some of her own children are in this flock. Everyone here has separated completely from his or her past family.

The bond that Yellow Ribbon feels to this group isn't nearly as strong as the other bonds she has felt during the year. Her staying with these young birds is just the comfortable thing to do. It's pleasant to roam with them, explore new territory and try kinds of food she's never eaten before.

Today, in this railroad yard, the heat is worse than Yellow Ribbon ever has known it. During the last four days, each afternoon has been hotter than the last. Today's heat is almost unbearable.

Deep inside the Sugarberry tree, holding her wings away from her body and breathing with her beak wide open, Yellow Ribbon tries to keep cool. Quietly she sits. In the railroad yard nothing is moving. The whole city seems numbed and paralyzed by wet heat.

At two o'clock in the afternoon the heat begins to kill. In some parts of town where House Sparrow nests are built close beneath tin roofs or in places where air can't circulate well, overheated nestlings are dying. Old birds whose tired bodies can't function under extreme conditions also die. However, Yellow Ribbon is healthy and now she's sheltered in the Sugarberry tree's shadows, so everything is alright as long as she can perch quietly, quietly, quietly, with her wings outspread and her bill open...

In the southwestern sky a black cloud is forming. Already you can hear the almost continuous rumble of far-away thunder. A storm is brewing.

Now, a storm has a beginning, a middle and an end, and during a storm's life, usually it travels from one place to another. Yellow Ribbon's storm is beginning twenty miles northwest of town and its track will bring it exactly here. As the storm comes, passes around her, and finally goes away, our bird will experience each of the storm's three stages.

The storm's first part begins with just waiting for the action to arrive. During this part, Yellow Ribbon perches listening to the thunder growing louder, watching the black blanket draw itself across more and more of the blue sky until suddenly it covers the sun, the land grows darker, and in the air there's something that keeps saying, "It's coming... It's coming... It's almost here... Here it comes... It's coming... "

During this first stage, things happen in slow motion. Thunder becomes louder by such small degrees that from one rumble to the next there's hardly any difference at all. Tree leaves hang limp and silent. Everything else holds its breath. And in hundreds of trees and building nooks and crannies all over town thousands of Yellow Ribbons perch waiting, watching, and wondering what happens next.

Yellow Ribbon isn't prepared for Stage Two's beginning. A bolt of lightning flashes so intensely that even the Sugarberry's interior is flooded with brilliant light. Cracking thunder rages almost simultaneously through the Sugarberry's branches, nearly shaking Yellow Ribbon from her perch.

Trembling with anxiety, Yellow Ribbon feels the thick, dark heat around her metamorphose into something sharp and tingly. Where before the air filled one with numbness and lethargy, now it's rousing every cell in the body. In the sky a dangerous-looking, brooding, unified mass of black, turbulent cloud spreads from one horizon to the other. Nervous gusts of wind in the railroad yard stir up dirty sheets of discarded newspaper and gritty clouds of gray dust.

Then the rain comes. At first its drops are widely spaced and so heavy that when they hit the ground you hear little thuds. These raindrops knock down blades of grass, punch spiders out of their webs, and on black, heat-oozing asphalt streets leave broad, glossy splatters.

In this kind of storm you can become sidetracked watching ten thousand, thousand individual happenings. You can get lost -- washed away -- in fantastic swirls of rain-white wind and an overkill of light and sound and the broad confusion of hitting and dripping and splashing...

Overcome with her sense of helplessness and fear of the unknown, Yellow Ribbon flees the Sugarberry tree. Through mighty gusts of wind and heavy white rain she flies across the railroad yard, looking for any kind of safe haven. She finds it in the form of a boxcar standing on the tracks with its doors open. She flies into the car, flutters onto the metal floor, and skids onto her rump.

Inside, Yellow Ribbon listens to the wind, the pounding rain, and the thunder. She feels the floor vibrate from heavy raindrops pelting the car's aluminum roof and sides; she feels the entire car heaving in the wind.

When the storm's Stage Three comes, Yellow Ribbon is perched at the edge of the floor looking across the railroad yard. A large branch has been torn from the Sugarberry tree where she was earlier, and who knows where her former roosting mates are?

Stage Three is cool -- almost cold. Just an hour ago tree leaves were hot and limp, photosynthesizing sunlight into tree food, but now many of those same leaves are stuck onto automobile windshields, lying tattered on the ground, or still on the trees, but crisp and cool, and wet with beaded raindrops inside which, if you look very closely, you can see the whole world turned upside down.

Yellow Ribbon is in an orange freight-car on the sides of which is written "Cotton Belt." When Stage Three ends, brilliant, yellow, late-afternoon sunlight slants through the car's open doors. Our bird flies out. Though usually sparrows fly close to the ground and travel only for short distances, now there's something in the air that sends Yellow Ribbon soaring into the sky. Now she swims in the cool, wet air above the city.

On wings that cannot carry her fast enough she flies to see what lies beyond the next hill... behind that last row of street trees at the edge of town... along the river's far banks...

Continue to AUGUST