Our fat watchbirds

Have you ever looked into a blue jay’s nest? Me neither. Maybe it’s for the best that we haven’t. Lithuanians, especially those of us with some West Virginia heritage thrown in, are known to do some pretty silly things, especially in a rural setting. Our two most prominent traits, curiosity and hard-headedness, often combine to crowd out what wisp of common sense that we may have.

Determined to be the first to peer into a blue jay’s nest, Cousin Peter climbed a large cedar tree where such a nest was thought to be. Whether the nest was actually there was never clearly established, however, we regarded the tree with heightened suspicion when the blue jays attacked. Peter received some minor facial lacerations but his efforts to fight the birds off caused him to fall from the tree. His resulting injuries required hospitalization.

“Don’t bother the blue jays — blue jays put Peter in the hospital,” was an often heard parental admonition.

Blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) are related to crows and magpies (why am I not surprised…) and are often seen in suburbs, parks and woodlands. Their range of habitation is from the Atlantic to the Rockies and from southern Florida to the Great Lakes though they have turned up in the Northwest and deep into Canada.

For our readers west of the Rockies, the birds are mostly blue and crested with black barring and white patches. There’s also a black necklace on lighter under parts. They are about 11 inches in length. They are loud, bold and are quick to complain about slow restaurant service.

Our blue jays are about the size of pheasants, largely through stealing food that we put out for our cats. Recently, we went away for a day and the outdoor supply was momentarily exhausted. Our equally rotund felines were certain to remind us to fill their dishes by mewing and wending their way around our ankles as we brought things in from the car.

The blue jays, however, aren’t given to such subtlety. Squawking loudly from the branches while others strutted back and forth on the porch railing, they demanded to be served — now. Often, a blue jay will be dining at the cat food dish while a cat looks on. The cat usually looks up at us as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to do something?”

I walked out the back door one spring day to find a blue jay and a squirrel facing each other in the branches of a leafless ash tree. They squawked and scolded in their respective languages while a cat looked on from the ground — politics. Once in a while, things will come to be at loggerheads and we’ll find a mangled mass of blue feathers — probably the work of the larger of our cats. This serves only to thin the flock and the remaining birds become even larger and more aggressive — I expect them to start arriving on Harleys any day now.

Though bold and aggressive, these birds seem to know which side the bread (or, in this case, cat food) is buttered on and have refrained from any Hitchcock-esque behavior toward us. I’m not so sure that they would treat those with dishonest intent with the same kindness. Intruders, heed this warning, “Blue jays put Peter in the hospital, you know.”


Oldest American motorcycle?

The 1902 Indian motorcycle featured in two issues of the Hampshire Review as the oldest American motorcycle may actually be the second oldest. That it is the oldest production built gasoline powered American motorcycle may very well be true but I think that I’ve found a bike that is actually older — picky-picky.

A few years ago, I was working in the Smithsonian storage facility at Suitland, Md., where displays go when they’re done being shown at the museum. Other pieces, slated for disposal, can show up anywhere — including Hampshire County. Forget those Ben Stiller movies. I was assembling a large steam engine (circa 1850) that had just been moved from the museum. I was working as a sub-contractor for Fine Arts Specialists, an international art handling and moving company based in Capon Bridge.

After I had finished the job, one of the Smithsonian employees who shared my interest in old things mechanical gave me a whirlwind tour of a neighboring storage building. Oh, the mechanical wonders that I saw there. The tour was rushed because it was nearing that time when one does not want to be on the Beltway — 10 minutes can make all the difference in the world.

Due to my haste, some of the facts may be a little hazy — photos are not permitted. In a corner near a Rumley Oil-Pull tractor and Don Garlit’s dragster, was what the Smithsonian regards as the world’s oldest motorcycle. The bike is steam powered and dates — as I recall — from around the late 1700s. This particular building houses overflow from the Smithsonian’s American History Museum so this motorcycle is presumed to be American made.

As for the possibility of acquiring the machine, I believe I was told that steam enthusiast Jay Leno made an offer that was refused so instead used this bike as a pattern to build a replica.

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