The Stevieling has always had a connection with animals.
All kids have an affinity for animals of some sort, which explains the proliferation of petting zoos, but The Stevieling's connection runs deeper than that. It is as though there is some sort of psychic connection or law of the universe at work.
When she was four we took her to an "adventure park and petting zoo" and she was invited to go up on stage for a presentation involving various animals. I think the idea was that she be gently scared and provide some harmless comic relief for the parents present.
The presenter brought out the first animal, I forget what, and she promptly hi-jacked the stage and the presentation by bombarding the poor sod in the Aussie-style bush hat with machine-gun questions about the life, diet and problems involved in housing the beast and suggestions on how the current methodologies could be improved. Mrs Stevie and I were in hysterics, as were most of the other adults present.
Bwana Hat then produced a guaranteed kid-scarer, a baby alligator which he lowered to the stage. It immediately began its party-piece: running like crazy with windmilling legs. He, of course, held onto the beast's tail and waited for the screams to start. The Stevieling jumped up and down, clapping her hands in glee and shouted "Oh! Let him go! Let him go!"
The next star of the show was to be a baby bear of some sort, but Crocodile Squeegee, no doubt with visions of liability clauses dancing in his head, announced "I think you'd better sit down now!"
Later that year we visited Sea World in Florida. The Stevieling had expressed a burning desire to touch a dolphin so we sought out the dolphin pool, which used to be a voluminous but I should think boring for the dolphins oval pool with waist-high walls from the people side.
I was pleased to see that this deplorable state of affairs had been addressed, and the beasts were now housed in a much bigger irregularly-shaped pool that featured a rocky littoral at one side.
My heart fell as I saw the crowd around that pool, which took up all the available space with deep water next to it. Obviously the dolphins had just been fed which meant my plan to lure them to the waiting Stevieling with fish was doomed to failure.
Understand, The Stevieling was an angel about stuff like this, and bore disappointments that would have most kids screaming a blue fit with a shrug and a happy smile. This, naturally, worked to make me even more determined to get her what she wanted, but I couldn't see anywhere we could stand by the pool to have a go. Every linear inch of wall space was occupied by adults and larger kids.
The dolphins were in the middle of the pool, teasing the humans as they do.
Eventually a hopeless spot opened up. It was an inside right-angled corner right against the shallow rocky part of the pool where the water turned into a sort of broken rock morraine. A dolphin would have to be mad to try and get close over the sharp rocks there, but I let The Stevieling stand by the wall so she could at least see them. She bellied up, barely able to see over the wall, and stretched out her tiny hand, palm outward.
Bugger me if one dolphin didn't immediately begin swimming directly toward her.
When it became obvious that a dolphin was going to come close in to shore, a new and unexpected problem arose. All the stupid adults standing around the pool surged toward the inside corner containing my kid. I braced my hands against both angles of the wall and fended them off, and watched something miraculous happen. The dolphin swan up into the shallows, over those sharp, sharp rocks - to this day I don't know how - and parked itself within easy patting reach of The Stevieling's little hand. She patted the animal a couple of times, the dolphin turned and swam away and she said "Okay, we can go now", oblivious to the consternation of the adults around her.
Much later in her life I tasked her with mowing the front lawn for me while I made an emergency trip to Home Despot. I explained how the mower worked, got it started and warmed up and left for the store.
Now I had mowed that same small area of grass for more than a dozen years and found nothing in it other than grass and an alarming number of dandelions, so I was nonplussed when I arrived home to find the lawn half-mowed, the mower standing in the middle of the lawn and no-one in sight. I found the family in the back garden with a box full of rabbits, each about the size of my thumb.
"Where did these come from?" I sighed, already half sure of the inevitable answer.
"The front lawn. They were in a hole" said the Stevieling anxiously. "Can we keep them?"
"Absolutely not. Put them back where you found them" I said in tones that brooked no nonsense.
"But the mother will eat them now" wailed The Stevieling. Mrs Stevie was no help whatsoever.
"Phone your Cannuck Cousin. She has worked with animals and knows about rabbits1".
After being reassured by her cousin that no, the baby rabbits would be fine if they were replaced in their nest the animals were put back in the unfeasibly small hole they'd been found in and a return to lawn mowing was negotiated.
I think I've already spoken here of the time she found a squirrel in a garbage pail and reached in to pick it up, earning a bite and an afternoon in the Emergency Room of Good Samaritan Hospital for her trouble. Only my kid would not think it more appropriate to simply tip over the garbage can so the animal could escape.
And so to the latest Stevieling Animal Escapade.
The Stevieling has a job as assistant deacon at the local Lutheran church, and was away a couple of weeks ago doing her janitorial duties when we got a call from her. Mrs Stevie spoke to her for a while then passed over the phone with "a look" on her face.
"Hullo daughter. Wassamarrer now? " I asked.
"Can I borrow some screwdrivers please?"
"Why do you need tools?" I asked, my spirits beginning to droop in anticipation of the answer.
"I need to dismantle a radiator."
"There's a bird trapped inside."
"How do you know there's a bird in the radiator?"
"I heard fluttering and I saw a beak."
"A beak? Are you sure?"
"Positive. Through the slits."
"Argh. All right, I'll get some tools and come over. Don't do anything until I get there."
A bird I could not believe, but a rat or mouse was possible and we did not need another bite and another lost afternoon in the land of the sick and screaming. Mrs Stevie decided she would also like in on this fiasco in the making, probably flashing as I was on the time I all but dismantled the sofa for an item the kid had in her pocket.
I grabbed my favorite Slotted and Phillips screwdrivers and we headed out to the church. We met The Stevieling who let us in and walked us to an aging baseboard heater about a foot tall, maybe four feet long and about four inches deep, one inch of which looked to be the brown paint it was covered in. I looked in it, and banged on it, but I saw no sign of beaks nor did I catch the merest suggestion of fluttering.
"You're sure about this?" I said, eying the painted-over screws with distaste.
"Very sure" she said, with feeling.
"Okay then" I said, and got to work.
The screws were of a variety of types, lengths, metals and probably thread pitches. Some of them might have been hand made. I could swear one looked old enough to have been salvaged from The Ark. The paint, when the screws broke the seal, proved to be several layers and colors thick. I came to the conclusion that the brown was actually the result of years of interaction between the various paint layers3 rather than a coat of brown paint. Eventually I got them all out while Mrs Stevie stood by with her arms folded in that helpful way she has and The Stevieling opened a nearby door to the outside world.
The radiator cover proved to be painted securely to the wall and would not release, so I just pulled the bottom up from the floor and bent low to see what I could see while visions of being face-bit by a rat danced in my head. I was turning to express my disgust at my wasted time to The Stevieling when with perfect timing a large bird, Starling-sized or so, burst from underneath the metal cover right by Mrs Stevie, causing her to shriek most rewardingly, and flew out of the door.
"I told you I saw a beak" The Stevieling said, smugly.
- Mrs Stevie had almost been caught up in a scheme my niece had cooked up to gain a fleet of rabbits in spite of her mother's absolute rule of No More Pets2 by having adults "own" them and foster them with her↑
- They had the makings of a small petting zoo by then↑
- Experiments The Stevieling had undertaken in her seminal Third Year Period had proved beyond doubt that if one uses enough different colors one inevitably converges on brown↑