By John "Birdman" Bryant


Every morning I feed a flock of birds. (How nice it is on a cold winter's day to feel the warmth from a blanket of birds!) But they are not just birds -- they are pigeons, who are a very special type of bird, with a very special (and close) relation to human beings. Pigeons were the agricultural equivalent of chickens before chickens stole their jobs, and are now "on their own" to clean up the messes in our streets and gutters. They are tireless workers because they are stupendous eaters -- and quite fat from all that. They are also delicious if fed on good food, but I love them for other reasons: their beauty, their intelligence, their amusing behavior and -- certainly not least -- because they like the hand that feeds them, and the being attached to it.

I have a contract with my birds. I agree to meet them every day near dawn, and they agree to be there and enjoy my food -- and to let me enjoy them in an intimate way that they would never think of allowing strangers to do. It is a contract because it has a penalty clause for both of us -- it hurts them if I don't come, and it hurts me not to come because it hurts them and I feel for them, and because I enjoy their company.

Among the birds that I have a contract with is a very special bird. I call him One-Foot, tho One-Leg would be a more descriptive name. One-Foot is a survivor -- most birds in his class will not last a month, but One- Foot has lasted pretty close to a year. And I do my utmost to see that he gets a good breakfast every morning: He waits for me on the periphery of the other birds, and when I hold my hand out to him, he comes flying up and lights on it, which I quickly draw toward me to hold against my chest. That is where I can best shield him from the pecks and greedy gobblings of other birds, who don't quite seem to appreciate that he is my VIP (Very Important Pigeon). And if he gets dislodged from his perch, as he usually does a couple of times during the feeding session, then I invite him back just as soon as I see he has "adjusted" himself (gotten the food comfortably settled in his crop) and is ready for another round.

I have asked myself many times why I should lavish such attention on a bird who seems to have so little going for him, but the answer always comes back, Why should I lavish my attention on any bird? The answer, I suppose, is that I feel for him, and simply respond to my feelings. But it is more than that. It is a lesson which I learned when I was very young, and which I have carried with me all these years. It is the lesson -- possibly apocryphal, I realize -- that everyone in Holland keeps his doorstep clean, with the result that Holland is sparkling clean and bright. What I am getting at is, I cannot do everything to solve the world's problems, but I can at least solve the problems in the immediate sphere of my existence. One-Foot is my problem. And my responsibility. I will take care of him because he is one of my own.

Would that others should do the same -- then how sparkling clean and bright the world would be!

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