I was walking home from Cambridge tonight. Along the way, I noticed that the birds in the park I was passing were squawking very loudly. I imagined that they were enjoying the warm spring sun as much as I was and that they were “coming alive” into the season.

I kept walking.

I approached an elderly lady who was closely observing the birds. As I neared, she looked at me. I smiled, stretched out my hands wide and said “it’s a carnival of birds”. The woman was obviously not impressed by my unobservant and unknowing comment. She looked me straight in the eyes and said:

“Do you know your birds?”

Horror! Oh know! She knows!

She knows that I know nothing about birds. It must show. I have let the bird obsession of the last 15 years pass me by (along with everything else). I don’t own any bird books. I never taught kids which bird was which. I am a failure at feeding the birds; my bird feeders are empty. I don’t know seasonal migration patterns. I only learned 2 years ago how a mocking bird got its name.

She knows.

Or, perhaps was this some unknown ritual among walkers; a kind of one-ups-manship? Is this a truth or dare, or right to pass game I know nothing about? I have been locked up commuting in my car for 25 years. Anything’s possible.

I had to think fast. I had to pull on my vast experience with birds…..in East Watertown. Let’s see, pigeons. Yeah I know all about pigeons; but these weren’t pigeons. Little robin red-breast. Blue-blue jays. Cardinals are red, except when they’re not (the females). No – I will never pass this test.

But I know that call. Crows. They are crows. I know all about crows. I read This Present Darkness. (Actually I now think that all crows are physically inhabited by evil demons.)

I now had empirical data upon which I could build. I scanned the databases. I remembered one incident with crows 2 years ago (on the corner of Mt. Auburn Street and Arlington St. in…………..East Watertown). The crows were going crazy. There was an extremely large bird tearing the nest (and unfortunately the baby birds) apart and the crows were attacking it. The same chaos, the same sound, the same angry crow calls.

I locked and loaded and shot my answer with all the casual inflection of a Sunday afternoon walk: “Is it a hawk?”

The old lady turned and pointed: “over there in that tree”.

I had passed the test. I felt light and breezy, successful. The most important challenge of my day had been met. I was smart. Ain’t no stoppin’ me now baby.

Whew – that was close. The woman kept talking about the birds, the coloring of the tails, on and on. But I was on a tight schedule and couldn’t stay. Actually I knew if I stayed there would come a question I could not understand or answer. Must get away fast; escape now.

I smiled, responded and hurried on down the road. (Was I running?). She need never know that I was not really a player in the game. I just happened to have “been there, done that” with that one type of bird once before. I owned that one baby.

Close call.

But tomorrow is another day.