Old Mack kept ploddin’ on

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 23, 2011

Varieties of birds live in our neighborhood. In the mornings when I step outside to pick up two newspapers in the front yard, I always smile at the delightful birdsongs floating in the air above me. I’ve noticed that there is an abundance of mockingbirds among those that send that delightful chorus my way.

One morning as I walked across the yard, I saw a mockingbird zip out of a camellia bush next to the house. My presence had startled it, and I saw it sail to a lantern pole close by. Curiosity overwhelmed me. I had to investigate. I stepped toward the bush, gently lifted a limb next to the bird’s exit point, and peered into the foliage. It was just as I suspected – a nest was wedged inside. I quickly released the limb, backed up and looked around. A mockingbird still sat on that pole. I was pretty certain it was eyeing me.

It’s the one that flew, I thought. That is mama bird making sure that I don’t bother that nest. I gingerly made my way to my front door and went inside. Would Mama have dived at me if I made a move toward that nest? I knew mockingbirds were capable of such.

Mockingbirds have fascinated me since I was a child. I’ve taken note of them ever since I saw one defending its territory, although I never really figured out where that was. I vividly recall how one tortured Mack, a neighbor’s bird dog, when I was 8 or 9 years old.

Mack’s owners lived on a hilltop in the sawmill community where my parents managed a company store. Sometimes when the sweet old dog came down the hill to explore around the store, my mother would come outside with a paper bag and call him. She would hold the bag out to him and order him to take it home. He would then grasp the fold of the bag in his mouth, turn and head up the hill. Once he reached home, he dropped the sack at his master’s feet. His master rewarded him for his obedience by giving him the bone that was inside.

One day as old Mack happily trotted up the hill with his head held high holding a paper sack with a goody inside for him, a mockingbird suddenly appeared. It swooped down and made a pass at his head. Mack zigzagged a little and bent low to the ground, but he kept on running. The bird whizzed off. It returned seconds later to resume its attack.

All the while, the dog plodded on, tightly gripping the sack in his mouth, dodging the bird, until he safely reached home.

Mack was a picture of persistence. And yes, so was that mocker. The dog was determined to deliver the prize he carried in that paper bag. The mockingbird was probably defending a nest near the hill Mack traveled.