My view of the pistachio tree from my usual seat in the studio.
My view to the side, overlooking the spare lot and lake.
jdbphotos. Click on first photo to enlarge all and read captions.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, “in the catbird seat,” it means to be in a position above the action or perhaps in control. This is what I am when I’m in my studio, which has one wall entirely comprised of windows looking out on my garden and another window to my right that looks out over my spare lot down below and ultimately at the lake spread out on a lower plane with Mount Garcia and Colima Volcano behind it on the other shore.
In the Catbird Seat
After a year of no time at all in the studio, I’ve spent 4 days there in the past few weeks. It feels wonderful, even though the last day I spent there was entirely spent organizing, sorting, putting away, reorganizing.
My studio is a separate small building I had built in the garden below my house. My dogs, unaccustomed as they are to my being there, followed me down, no doubt remembering I keep a bag of dog biscuits down there. Fortified, they wandered off, but eventually returned to spend the morning outside my door––Morrie plastered horizontally across the base of the locked screen door, Diego perpendicular to him, stretched out along the brick walkway.
The kittens, relegated to the front yard and house, have seen neither the back yard nor my studio. I fear what my dogs, intent on doing away with every soft fuzzy creature that enters my yard, would do to them, even though they’ve been seeing them for almost four months now through the glass, bars and screens that form most of the walls of every room in my house.
That is why I was so distressed when I heard the plaintive meow of one of the kittens coming from the wrong direction. Not from the side of the house where they have a walled-off outside run all their own, but seemingly from the street behind the studio or from the empty lot down below me. I listened closely, hoping it was just my one hearing-impaired ear that was misdirecting the direction from which the sound was coming; but, when I stepped out into the yard, I could hear it clearly.
I called out to Pasiano, telling him I thought one of the kittens had made its way out of its safe zone.
“No, senora,” he insisted.
“Yes! Listen,” I insisted as the loud meow came again––several times.
He shook his head, laughing, and gestured up into the pistachio tree, from which one bird was cawing an insistent bird call, another creature mewing back an insistent interspecies reply. It was a bird, he told me. He led me closer to the tree and as he did, a black bird flew down from that tree to a large castor bean plant in the spare lot. The bird in the tree cawed and chirped. The bird below in the spare lot meowed back,
It was a magpie that had evidently been hanging around the kittens for too long. A mother knows her kids’ voices and this was a perfect replica of my kittens’ bossy demands to be fed.
When I told Yolanda about this strange occurrence, she laughed and said she had done exactly the same thing two days earlier, sure one of the kittens had escaped.
Now this story, as unbelievable as you might find it, has a precedent in my family. When my 11-year-older sister was a tiny girl, she was in the habit of coming to the back door and calling out, “Mommy, Mommy! This occurred so many times during the day that my mother had told her that unless it was an emergency, she should come into the house to find her instead of expecting her to drop whatever household task she was doing to come to the door. Betty heeded this request perhaps one time out of three, which was an improvement, at least.
One day, my mother heard he calling out to her, but when she came to the door, no Betty! She went back to her work on the other side of the house, only to hear he call out again. Once again, she went to the door, but no Betty. This time she called her in from her play, gave her a scolding and told her not to do it again. But Mommy, she hadn’t done it, my sister insisted, but in that way Mommy’s develop, my mom just shook her head and said, well, not to do it again.
Barely had she gotten back to the kitchen however, when she heard my sister demanding her presence again. This time really angry, she stamped back across the house to the screened-in porch to see—absolutely no one standing on the front door stoop. This time, however, the mystery was quickly solved. In a large cage on that screened in porch was a magpie with a damaged wing that my father had brought in from the ranch. Even as my mother entered the porch, he had called out once more in my sister’s voice, demanding her presence.
Most mimics only get themselves in trouble due to inappropriate material. This mimic was most adept at passing the blame. True story, as is the more recent magpie story above.