My wife's father was a master woodworker. Using his many talents, he built us a bedroom suit as a wedding gift. He sculpted a grandfather clock that stands in our den. A set of wooden hurricane lamps rest on our fireplace mantle. A wooden mirror frame hangs on our wall. But, I think his favorite things to build were his bluebird boxes. He had a love for bluebirds and it is impossible for me to see a bluebird and not think of him.
He built the bluebird boxes with love and care for detail. He discovered that bluebirds would only nest in a box that was so many inches tall, so many inches deep. The hole of the bluebird box could not exceed a certain circumference. All of the boxes that he built complied with these set of specification. But his love for the bluebird was so great that he built the boxes with a hinged top, so that he could open the lid and peer inside to see the mother with her babies. Over the years he recorded the number of eggs in each box, the number of eggs that hatched, the rate of growth of each baby bluebird, and the time when each baby flew away. He read somewhere that the babies as adults would return to the box in which they were raised and lay their own eggs in them. So, when the box was empty, he would clean the nest from the box, and await their return.
He passed his love of the bluebird to me and he built two boxes for me that I hung in my backyard. However, he neglected to tell me two very important things.
First, he did not tell me that the mother bluebird flies out of the box at 100 miles per our when you lift the lid of the box. So, it is important to stand to the side of the hole rather than in front of the hole when you lift the lid. But, no worries. After you do this once you always remember to stand to the side.
The second and most important thing that he did not tell me was that snakes will occasionally climb into the bluebird box and eat all the baby bluebirds. Had I known this important detail I would have asked him to nail the lids of the box shut. But I didn't.
So, one beautiful Saturday morning I went into my backyard and walked to the bluebird box to check on the babies. I stood to one side and carefully opened the lid. The mother did not fly out, so I figured that she was out gathering food. I lowered my head to the box and peered inside. It took one nanosecond for me to realize that I was looking straight down the throat of a black snake. I slammed the lid down on the box so hard that the box fell off the pole on which it was mounted and the snake crawled out the hole into the yard.
Then I did something that all human beings have done since the beginning of time when they have had a close encounter with a snake- the snake dance. I can't explain it. This movement takes over your body and your arms and legs begin to twist and turn and you shimmy and you shiver and once in a while a sound like a whoop or a hoot will come from deep within your throat. Anyone seeing this from a distance without knowing about the snake will think you have lost your mind. When you tell them about the snake it all makes sense and your behavior is seen as perfectly natural.
After I recovered and went inside, my daughter Erin was standing in the kitchen by the window. "Daddy," she asked, "why were you dancing in the backyard?" "Well, " I said, " I saw a snake." And she replied, "Oh, OK. That explains it."
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