How to Raise a Mockingbird


For the past week, I’ve been kicking around a new idea. I know, I’m always kicking around ideas. This one happened to be around a thriller. I sat in my office, moving index cards around, trying to see if the new shiny idea was worth pursuing.  Ronan, my dog and sidekick, was intensely focused on the world outside my office window, which isn’t unusual. In the fictional world, Ronan is like Jeffries from Rear Window. Ronan is convinced that a murder is always about to take place on the front lawn. Squirrels, birds, delivery trucks, men with beards and hats… well, you get the picture.

But after he began pacing, trying to actively get at something on the other side of the glass, I paid more attention.  On top of the low-lying junipers sat a young mockingbird. Somehow, she’d fallen from her nest in the maple tree. Too young to fly, but old enough that the fall from the tree to the cushion of the nearby junipers below didn’t hurt her, she cried for her parents, who seemed to be in a tizzy about what to do with the escapee. Both Ronan I sat down on the floor to watch. She was bold, this little mockingbird. No fear. While her parents were fussing up a storm because they could see us, their offspring seemed curious. To give the family some space, I went back to my desk. Ronan, did not. He parked himself right in front of the window to watch.


Soon, the parents settled down and brought insects for the little one to eat. Throughout the day, the parents fed her, clearly feeling comfortable with Ronan’s presence. By nightfall, I wondered if she’d survive until morning. The neighborhood has several cats that prowl, both day and night. We are also close to a park where coyotes have been spotted. Without Ronan sitting near the window and me at my desk to intervene should he give warning, the baby mockingbird was on her own.

But the next day, the young mockingbird was right there, chirping and examining her world. By the middle of the second day, I named her Harper, after Harper Lee. What else would a writer in the south name a young mockingbird? Again, Ronan sat in front of the window. Not a single cat ventured close, despite how much noise Harper made. She frequently perched on the branches and stretched her wings. Harper’s parents, now properly named Atticus and Scout (don’t ask me which was which), continued to feed Harper, even though she was nearly their size.

The next morning, Harper wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Or heard. After three hours, I sadly assumed the worst.

By eleven, I heard a chirp. Then more chirping. And then I spotted her. Throughout the day, Harper’s parents fed her. And each time they returned, they had to find her. Harper. It seemed little Harper  liked to explore. By the end of the afternoon, she had hopped from one branch to another, making it down to the far side of the house, stretching her wings frequently.


Today, she flew.

Her first flight was to a set of taller bushes behind the junipers, a somewhat safer distance from predators on the ground. If she made that flight, I had no doubt she could fly to the lowest branches of the maple tree. After lunch,  Atticus (or Scout) appeared on the junipers, holding a caterpillar. And Harper called to them from the maple. Having had her fill of the junipers, she enticed her parents to fly to the tree to feed her.

I have no idea if Ronan’s or my presence had anything to do with keeping the neighborhood cats at bay during the daytime. But we’d like to think it didn’t hurt.

Have a nice life, Harper. Now that you’re an adult, I doubt I’ll recognize you from the other mockingbirds that frequent the yard, but I’ll always remember that cute baby bird sitting outside my office window while I contemplated a storyline for a thriller novel. I still have no idea if the idea is viable, nut maybe Harper was a sign of things to come.


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