Pigeons on the grass alas. - Gertrude Stein I would love to be able to repeat Gertrude Stein's line, but I have yet to see these birds on the grass. No, they are quite content to pursue their noisy endeavors on our roof. These are ambitious, industrious creatures, and they see our roof as the ideal site for Pigeon City, their West Coast capital. My wife and I have tried, in various subtle ways, to point out to them that they were not invited (although I guess yelling, ''Get off the roof, you birds!'' isn't the essence of subtlety).
I can recall seeing these birds and thinking how beautiful they are, with their light gray feathers and their deep-chested bodies, but that was back when they were on someone else's roof. I can even recall likening their species to the dove of peace, but that was before my wife declared war on them.
The droppings are bad enough. But the birds have been surprisingly noisy as well. They don't seem to settle down once they land. Rather, they make lots of shuffling sounds, as if they are moving furniture. I've seen the tiny claws that they allegedly pad around on, but, were I to believe my ears, I'd say they wear hiking boots.
On any given day we can hear them up there cooing. They're probably billing, too, though I'm not sure what that word means. (Call me unromantic, but to me it's something the Gas Company does each month.) The deep, throaty cooing is fairly pleasant to our ears, though rather uninventive as bird calls go. You'd think they could come up with something more musically decorative. But not these birds. They just want to move furniture in their hiking boots.
When I crawled up into the attic space, flashlight in hand, I discovered why we were hearing their movements so acutely. They were setting up house in this space between the roof and the ceiling, literally living under our roof, rent free. They had somehow worked their way past the protective wire screen. So add breaking and entering to the list of their charms.
By sealing off the attic, I eliminated much of their noise.
Nevertheless, my wife was simply growing tired of these feathered roof dwellers. She expressed this tiredness by stepping out on to the back porch and clapping her hands vigorously at 5:30 in the morning. This startled the birds into leaving, but they made a lazy circle and returned. After a few more encores from my wife, they grew jaded and couldn't even be bothered to budge. So she switched to wood blocks. But the clapping of two-by-fours was soon perceived by the pigeons as nothing more than a mediocre display of percussive technique. When she resorted to hitting the eaves with her grandfather's cane, the birds flew, dallied on a neighbor's roof (which was fast becoming a second home), then returned. After this last effort, I suggested to my wife that she relax because her frustration was causing her to sputter a lot of fractured English which, were I less wary, I might have called pidgin English.
Our neighbor, interestingly, was trying a scarecrow technique on his roof. He fastened a large stuffed owl to the shingles. But within two days, we could see that the pigeons had accepted the owl as one of their own. We could see them huddling around that victim of taxidermy as if to say, ''He's OK. He's a little quiet, but a nice guy.''
A softening of attitudes occurred when my wife, while tending the garden one day, came upon a pigeon that was grounded, unable to fly. There she was, face to face with the enemy, but all she could say was ''Get it some water. And get some bread crumbs. Maybe it's hungry.'' When I saw her kneeling in front of the bird, the two of them staring at each other, it looked to me like a summit meeting, a high-level treaty negotiation.
The birds should know that our side is not inflexible. We will allow them to stay on the roof, if they will agree to wear slippers. Given this small concession, I'm sure I will once again see these creatures as doves of peace.