Go ahead, uproot my herbs!
The blue jay had his own plans for my sprouting garden.
Bob Luckey/Greenwich Time/AP
During the 22 years I lived in midtown Manhattan, I never gardened. When I moved to the Emerald City, I learned that gardening is practically a requirement for citizenship â€“ a perfect opportunity to try my thumb at it.
My 6-by-8-foot redwood balcony wasnâ€™t exactly a yard, but it was outdoors, and exposed to lots of Seattle precipitation and occasional sunlight.
To learn my new hobby, I chose to plant herbs â€“ mainly because it bugged me to pay $4.99 for three scrawny sprigs of rosemary at the grocery store when I had noticed on walks around my new neighborhood that this plant grew in abundance.
I purchased containers, potting soil, seedlings, and a trowel and got to work. I planted a different herb in each of the 12 pots I lined up on the railing surrounding my balcony. Every morning, I looked out my kitchen window and watched as fragile stems of cilantro, oregano, and marjoram waved in the gentle spring breezes.
One morning, I heard squawking. A cobalt-blue bird, looking much like a crowned blue jay, balanced on the rim of a hand-painted pot. With his sharp black beak, he yanked out a stem of mint. His vertical black eyebrows moved up when he turned and looked at me.
â€śHey!â€ť I yelled. â€śYou put that back.â€ť He took off for a conifer 10 feet away.
I opened the door and examined the wreckage. Three stems had been wrenched away, leaving quarter-size divots atop the soil. I called out after the jay, â€śI paid $1.99 for that plant, you little hoodlum.â€ť
I sat at my computer and Googled â€śtypes of blue jay.â€ť I discovered that my little thief was a Stellerâ€™s jay, and he wasnâ€™t eating my herbs, he was using them as nesting material. Oh, no â€“ how big a nest would he build?
I returned to the window. The jay landed on the rim of a brass container. He cocked his head and ripped out a pale green sprout of parsley, not three days old.
â€śHey! This is not New York City â€“ itâ€™s not like thereâ€™s a shortage of green things here!â€ť
I went out the front door, stomped down the stairs, ripped up a handful of grass, returned to the balcony, and sprinkled the grass atop the now-barren earth. I called after the jay, â€śHereâ€™s some nice fresh grass; makes excellent nests.â€ť
I returned to my office only to run out again within a few minutes. The jay was gripping a stem of tarragon. I opened the door and off he flew. My crop was dwindling faster than I had planted it. I didnâ€™t know that much about gardening, but I did know that you had to give plants at least half a chance to grow before you picked them. There was little hope for these stubs.
I rushed to the closet and ripped a dry cleaning bag off my white suit. I grabbed the duct tape and scissors and returned to the scene of the crime. I sliced open the plastic and taped a piece over every one of the remaining seedlings and poked a few holes in the plastic.
Maybe the plastic would not only protect the plants from marauding birds, but also act like a greenhouse. Maybe the basil would flourish. Maybe I was learning something about gardening in adverse conditions.
I sat at the computer and concentrated on a spreadsheet. I heard a sound like a babyâ€™s cry, â€śAwww, awww, awww.â€ť I looked out the window for the source but saw no one.
I walked to the kitchen window. The jay was perched on the rim of a sage pot, sounding like he was crying. His mate alighted on a terra-cotta rim. â€śAwww, awww, awww.â€ť It had to be my imagination. Birds donâ€™t cry.
â€śAwww, awww, awww.â€ť
â€śOK. Fine. You win. You can have my herbs.â€ť I cut away the plastic and returned to the window to watch Mother and Father rip out all but one sturdy twig of rosemary. Despite their joint attempts at clear-cutting my garden, the rosemary didnâ€™t budge.
I opened the door; they flew back to their castle-in-progress. I gently pulled out the stem, shook the dirt from its roots, and placed it on the soil. I returned to the window and waited.
Within a minute, both jays sat opposite each other on the rim of the rosemary pot, Mom helping Dad adjust the frond in his beak. The $4.99 price for three sprigs of rosemary was beginning to look like a bargain.
Perhaps it was my imagination, but Iâ€™d like to think that the last waggle of their dark blue vertical eyebrows, before absconding with the last piece, was a gracious thank you.