Henry Jay and the Tail

I have no idea why I try to garden: I can’t say I enjoy the process, the results impress no one, and Tom doesn’t like vegetables.  Go figure. 

For over twenty years we’ve owned a house that sits stolidly on almost a half acre of land and I’ve often wondered what God wanted us to do with all this yard; it seems that something useful should be produced here.

The land is fenced into a front yard, a back yard, and what we call “the outback,” an area of neglected fruit trees and star thistle.  Several years ago, the guilt of unused land weighing on my prairie soul, we built two large raised garden beds, necessary since the dirt here would more easily produce bricks than beets (I’ve lived in Oregon for half my life and the idea of buying dirt still amazes me.). Each year we’ve planted and watered and weeded and not produced enough to have paid for the seed, let alone the soil. 

This year, having more hope in our souls than sense, we planted again and, in spite of the long soggy spring, things are growing; I haven’t bought canning jars yet, but I am encouraged. 

In the spirit of that hope Dink and I were out weeding in the south plot last week.  Dink is our longhaired miniature Dachshund and he’s more of a gardener than I’ll ever be.  He looks like something out of a Harry Potter novel – one blue eye, one brown one and long, black-streaked chestnut hair.  I suspect he has magical powers and could, if he wanted to, helicopter up to ceiling height and zigzag around the room, but I’ve never actually seen him do that. 

Instead he digs.  Whenever I pick up a garden tool, he watches me closely for a few minutes, then starts pawing into the ground right next to me. He diligently yanks up any roots I’m chasing and has even learned the difference between weeding and planting; I noticed him a couple of weeks ago using his long nose to carefully cover up the ground I had just disturbed.

But I didn’t intend to tell about Dink, or, really, even about Henry Jay.  Henry is the scrub jay who has lived in our yard for the last half dozen years. He’s fond of us because we feed him walnuts from our outback trees, a habit he finds endearing, so he follows us around the yard, ever optimistic.

On the day in question he had been sans walnuts for a while and had, evidently, decided to fend for himself.

As I said, Dink and I were working the south plot, pulling up woodbine starts and searching the soil for some sign of intended vegetation.  I paused for a second and, leaning on the hoe farmer-style, I stared out across the outback to the north plot. 

There something caught my eye; in the dirt next to an emerging squash plant writhed an eight-inch length of some unidentifiable substance, something that appeared to be alive and in agony. 

It was about as big around as my little finger, too big for a worm, and no worm in my lengthy experience ever behaved in such an unseemly fashion.  The thing was swinging into an arc and then with equal violence, reversing the arc, thrashing around enough to kick up dirt.  It was too tapered to be a snake and snakes aren’t given to fit-throwing either.  I just stood there too horrified to look away.

It was Henry who came to my rescue.  He had been perched on the edge of one of the wooden planks that make up the bed.  I had been vaguely aware of his presence, but it had seemed normal for him to be there close to me. 

He covered the space between him and the thing in a nanosecond and was flying off toward the old plum tree before I could catch my breath.  He seemed both resigned and triumphant about the thrashing string of flesh that hung from his beak. 

At that moment a flash of something light-colored caught my eye.  I focused and saw what was left of a yellow-beige lizard zipping off to my left.  It was about half a foot long, and it was missing its tail. 

I suspect Henry was up to more than just yard maintenance.  He’d been greedy enough to go for that whole lizard – how else would the tail have been dislodged in the first place?  It must have surprised him that Liz had just walked away from half of herself.  Walnuts don’t do that. 

But he had quickly regained his composure and adjusted to the new reality.  I have no idea what he would have done with the whole lizard anyway; it was as big as he was. 

Meanwhile, Liz had gone underground to grow a new tail, Dink was still digging, and I was just standing there horrified at the violence I’d just witnessed.  True, Henry had enough lunch for his whole family,  and Liz would grow a new appendage,  but it was a nice tail and she was, like Eyeore, “pretty attached to it. “