My diesel pickup growled as it pulled the horse trailer up the final grade into the ranch yard. Pebbles popped away from the tires as they dug into the track. In the back seat, Rowdy, my blue heeler dog, quivered to be let out to chase cottontails. The horses stirred in the trailer. They were ready to be out too, on this hot July day. Visions of belly high green mountain brome grass danced in their heads, I was sure. Beside me in the passenger seat, Jack Sparrow’s hungry cheeps drifted up from his bucket nest. Of course. “You will have to hang in there for a bit, Jack,” I commented as I stepped out of the truck to unload the horses. He cheeped louder to remind me to rearrange my priorities.
After I unloaded the horses and unhooked the truck from the horse trailer, I drove Jack to the log cabin on the hill. He was unimpressed with the spectacular view all around of the Bear Paw Mountains, and only wanted his crop filled. I lifted him from the truck and carefully carried his bucket-nest into one of the bedrooms in the cabin. On a desk, I placed his heating pad set to low, and Jack in his bucket on top. Then I scurried off to locate a toothpick to feed him from. After his journey, Jack was voracious. He almost yanked the toothpick from my fingers as he snatched his food from it. Hungry little fellow. At last, he turned away and waddled under the fold of his rag to sleep.
The next day, I had to leave to run errands in town. I asked Mom if she would feed Jack while I was gone, and she agreed. I carried Jack in his bucket-nest, the heating pad, and his food down the hill to Mom and Dad’s house. I felt question marks rising from Jack under his fold as we got him situated for the day. I assured him I would return and off I went.
Later in the afternoon after I returned, I carried Jack back up the hill and set his bucket-nest back on his heating pad. He was hushed under his fold, so I did not disturb him. Mom mentioned he had been quiet most of the day, too.
The next morning before I left to ride my horse over the rough hills of the ranch, Jack was silent. He did not sound out his good morning hungry cheeps, and took only a beakful or two of food, then crept back under his fold. I was worried. Was Jack failing after doing so well? He had been so full of life ever since I picked him up from under the fir tree. My hands tingled as they recalled Jack’s vigor. It could not be. This was not fair. Jack deserved to live, if for no other reason than he had been so full of life.
As there was nothing else I felt I could do for Jack within reason, I sent forth a wish for his well-being and left the room.
Several hours later, I rushed into the bedroom. Was Jack going to be alive or dead? He was mute. Not good. I lifted the fold of rag Jack had been under when I last saw him. There he was. He rested on his breast, his head barely lifted. What the heck? Was I to lose Jack now? My fingers raised Jack from his rag-nest like he was made of the most delicate porcelain. His head drooped over one finger. “Jack! Don’t do this to me!” I cried. After I folded him back into his rag-nest, I noticed the control on the heating pad. It was on high. Dammit! It must have gotten bumped somehow yesterday as I moved him to Mom and Dad’s house and back. I snapped that little control back to “low”. Then I set Jack and his bucket-nest off to the side to cool down. Poor little Jack had simmered for about 18 hours. No wonder he felt poorly. I crossed my fingers and longed to hear his hungry cheep echo through the house again. And mentally kicked myself all the way out the door for not thinking to check the heat control on the heating pad sooner.
Later, I stepped into the cabin ear first. No sound. Then, “CHEEP! CHEEP!” I raced into the bedroom. Jack was out from under his fold and demanding his food. I skipped to the fridge and back, and loaded the toothpick on the way.
Partway through his meal, he closed his yellow beak and looked at me from one shining brown eye. Then he lifted his little wings slightly and fluttered them. Then he uttered a new softer “cheep”. It turned into a series of cheeps together. What was this now? I pointed the loaded toothpick at him and he picked off his food. Then he fluttered and cheeped his new “cheeps” at me. I swooned. If Jack did not have my heart before, he surely did now.
I made triple sure the heating pad was set to low. As the day waned, I set Jack and his turquoise plastic bucket-nest back on it. What a close call Jack had survived. I opened the window in his bedroom a crack so he could hear the birds outside as they sang the sun down. Although the birds were not sparrows, I thought Jack might appreciate hearing some words of his own kind.
Now when I headed into Jack’s room to feed him and called out, “Jack Sparrow are you hungryyyyyy?” he hopped out from under his fold. In the middle of his bucket-nest he fluttered and cheeped his new “cheeps” at me. He was irresistible. I wondered if all little sparrows used this language to get fed, or if Jack had found his own way. It would not surprise me if it were his own invention.
Soon it was time to leave the ranch. Jack was getting active in his bucket-nest. He hopped around in it as he moved from fold to fold. It had only been nine days since he had fallen out of his nest, and he still grew by flutters and hops. I covered his bucket with a light cloth as I carried him to the pickup. He was quieter on this drive than the last. Maybe he was getting used to travelling. I had a vision of Jack and me on journeys in the truck. We would crisscross the country as we had adventure after adventure together. I bet not too many people travelled with a sparrow buddy.
Once home, I trundled up the stairs with Jack and set his bucket down in a bedroom on the same side of the house as the fir tree the sparrows lived in. I wanted Jack to hear them through the window. Taz and JuneBug, the cats, were hot on my heels. I shut the door right in front of their whiskers. Then I lifted the cloth from Jack’s bucket-nest. He shot out on a flurry of wings! His wings beat the air as he careened around the room. At last, he teetered on a wire shelf in the closet. His tan scaly sparrow feet grasped the wire. Jack stared at me. I froze in place, my mouth open.