Boulevard of Broken Animals

FIRST, THERE WAS THE ONE-legged California towhee.

She didn’t actually start out as one-legged. But when we first noticed her in the backyard, one of her legs was badly withered. It eventually dropped off. We named her “Tikvah” — Hebrew for “hope” — and loved her for some years from afar.

After she died came the one we called “Noisy Evans.” California towhees (Melozone crissalis) are known by their one-note “pipping” calls as well as a rapid cascade that conjures up images of an ice-crystal fountain. Noisy Evans wasn’t very good at either of these, though; rather than soft pips, his could shatter metaphorical glass with their volume and urgency. Likewise, his cascades resembled a shy amateur’s slow attempts at whistling. His impaired warble made his songs drawn-out rather than compact, more Yoko Ono than Ella Fitzgerald. He stayed a year or so before fading into the What-Was.

Then there was Geronimo, about whom much has been written (and even more, photographed). He had one good eye and a lot of spirit, and became a memory in May after a decade of fierce mutual adoration.

There must be a reason why we attract so many broken animals. Maybe they can feel the unconditional love; maybe they know they’re needed. Whatever the reason, we are grateful to have shared their lives for a time. I wonder who will be next?

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