Sparrows on Mars?

Me and her sitting in a tree, K_I-S-S-I-N-G.Gizmo was a tiny Pekingese with a striking resemblance to the mogwai – we call them gremlins – in the movie of the same name. That movie was how I learned the three important rules of gremlins: 

  • Do not expose them to sunlight.
  • Do not give them any water.
  • Do not ever feed them after midnight.

The night my wife brought the little dog home, I was in bed with a book waiting for them when the little fuzzy black and brown critter came running onto the bed where I lay reading “Childhood’s End.”

Gizmo in the movie made an odd little mumbling whine. My first contact with the new pup was his face peering under my book and over the blanket, and making odd mumbling whiny noises.

“Gizmo,” I said, and that became his name.

There were a lot of neat things about Gizmo, but two seemed chief among them.

When he heard the word “bath,” he disappeared, almost before our eyes.

And if one of us would knock on the wall, he would run to the door barking to let us know someone was there.

He had learned the word “bath” and the meaning of a knock, but had not learned that a knock on the wall was different than a knock on the front door.

The night before she died, he jumped on her bed and snuggled next to her face. About a week after she departed, Gizmo left as well.

He especially liked snuggling next to me under the blanket on a cold winter night, but he was her dog.

I often wonder what makes critters – including us – relate to each other in such similar ways.

Parenthood seems driven, for most of us, by the similar chemically induced reactions. We attach to our own offspring, and do things for our child we would do for no one else’s.

For several days, a male cardinal came to the feeder at my studio window, leading one of his kids. At first I did not realize what was going on. The senior cardinal came right onto the feeder, but the youngster hung back in the dogwood.

Dad called to him, but he was adamant. I saw him looking in my direction. Clearly, he did not want to get any closer to that ugly giant on the other side of the feeder.

The father picked out a sunflower seed and took it to his son. The youngster opened wide and accepted the offering. Dad made three or four more trips between the feeder and the branch, each time carrying a single sunflower seed to his son. Then he led the youngster back wherever the nest was hidden.

We have several houses hanging close to our home and for the past week I have been enthralled by the sparrows cleaning out and refurnishing in preparation for a new generation.

Observing critters is fun, and often instructive, as they go about their lives, playing and working. Certainly birds and other land creatures, and some sea creatures – dolphins and whales, in particular – seem to follow similar social patterns. They attach to their children, protect them until they can be on their own, and then grieve for members of the clan when they expire.

The one thing, I submit, that sets us apart from the other critters, is our ability to speculate about events long in our past or future. Even sparrows arrange Valentines for their lovers, but planning for interplanetary travel seems limited to us humans.

Sparrows seem unconcerned about being welcomed on Mars. I thank you for reading this far. Now, I have a request. Please share this column. Click the “Share” button to share it on social media, or copy the URL and send it to friends and acquaintances you think might appreciate it.

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