Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Go West, Life is Peaceful There

A few weeks ago, I found a dead crow in my front yard, the obvious victim of a shoving match with a mini-van. I did what any modern, right-thinking woman would do; I begged Consort to make it go away and then I Tweeted about what a hypocritical feminist I am, letting the man I love deal with dead things in the yard. A few hours later, a friend wrote me a quick email. I was an amateur, she said, because she had two dead crows in her yard. No, she wasn’t touching them either, because even though there wasn’t a mark on either one, they were icky. She had already alerted her husband at work to try to remember where his “Touching dead things” gloves were hiding.

My interest flared. I wrote back to confirm that there wasn’t a single mark on them, they just appeared to be some new variety of crow which sleeps on the lawn in the middle of the day? Yes, she wrote back, like that. I typed back so quickly I almost sprained a finger. Her husband couldn’t just throw them away, they might have West Nile virus. She had to contact the city to pick them up. I sent her links to phone numbers. I sent her links to pages on West Nile. I sent her links to the historical patterns of virus transmission. I offered to visit her when the city bird-person arrived with his or her city-approved Glad bags. I noted her luck in having potentially virus-laden birds in her yard. She wrote back thanking me for all of my information and support and noting she hadn’t seen me this excited since the first reports of the H1N1 virus in humans had surfaced. She also suggested it might be weird if I were there when the city bird-person arrived, what with me giggling and asking for his autograph. I extracted a promise from her that she call me just as soon as he left.

She called the next day. I believe I said something like, “Tell me everything and don’t leave anything out.” Maybe I asked what the bird-taker was wearing. I had dimly hoped for a Hazmat suit and a rolling lab. He was in civilian clothes and he drove a hatchback. He bagged the birds and told her they’d contact her within two weeks.

“That was it?”

“Well, I offered him a Diet Coke.”

“Did he take it?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“Wait, there was one more thing. He said because there were two of them, my house was automatically considered a cluster spot.”

Some people have all the luck.

Two weeks later, I was waiting for the kid to finish a class when my phone rang; it was my friend. I answered “West Nile?”

“Hi to you, too.”

“Sorry, hi. West Nile?”

“Yes. But only in one of them.”

“Wait, what? But both were unmarked, five feet from each other and both were dead. They both were dead, right?”

“They didn’t seem to object to be crammed into plastic bags so I’m thinking that yes, they were dead.”

I stared off into the distance at the park, thinking.

“Maybe,” I mused aloud, “the bird that was negative for West Nile had it, but didn’t have enough of a viral load to measure and died of it because of an underlying condition.”

There was a silence.

“Sure, okay. You want to call the bird-person and tell her your theory? Maybe they can do a full autopsy.”

I thought about it and then decided it was possible she was mocking me.

“It’s not an autopsy,” I said briskly, “it’s a necropsy. Anyway, so what happens now?”

“Well, we’re supposed to empty any standing water. Since no one in the house is old or sick from something else, we probably won’t get it.”

I nodded vigorously; so far, nothing a disease-geek like me didn’t know.

“Did she tell you that dogs either don’t get it or get a very mild case?”

“Something like that. Honestly, I had kind of tuned out.”

Youth is wasted on the young. Disease clusters are wasted on civilians. And, it turned out, the city of Los Angeles. The city wouldn’t be sending out a letter in her neighborhood, nor would they be checking the area for any other dead birds.

“She said something about the city sending out a press release, because it’s the first positive test results of the season.”

I brightened up.

“But only if nothing more interesting happens in the city.”

Heathens.

I thanked her for letting me play along at home, but my mournful tone gave me away. She said, “If it helps, I had the woman mail me a brochure about the signs of rabies in squirrels. I thought you’d like it.”

It’s no squadron of men in Hazmat suits sealing off a city block, but it would have to do.

13 Comments:

Blogger Lela said...

At first I read that you had found a dead cow in your yard; then, of course, I took a second look.

So unfair that YOU didn't end up a cluster spot, or at least get to meet the city bird person!

2:54 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

The weekend before last, I went to pick up my kid from a playdate at a classmate's house in a swanky, suburban neighborhood. As the girls were enacting their protracted and dramatic goodbye rituals, the friend's mom and I were standing there, shivering on their front porch when all of a sudden, she clutched my arm and said in a horrified stage whisper "WHAT. IS. THAT?!?!?!" I followed her horrified gaze up the front walk to where a rather dejected looking opossum corpse rested against the decorative yard lamp post. "Um, it appears to be an opossum." I replied.

She promptly freaked the HECK out and hustled her daughters back in the house for fear that they'd *see* the *dead animal* while I calmly walked my kid over to our minivan and had her climb inside. The other mom was seriously flipping out, unsure what to do and her husband was out of town for another few days. I offered to help her bag the corpse up (and by help, I apparently meant "bring me a Hefty bag and a shovel and I'll do all the work while you jump up and down a few feet away, shrieking" as it turned out) and poked my head into our car to alert Kiddo to what was going on - she was upset that I wouldn't let her get back out of the car so she could watch and/or help.

The opossum may very well have been there for some time, as the snow had just begun melting, and it was well past rigor mortis and didn't have that Newly Dead Smell, either. (I grew up on a farm and am therefore used to such things. Then again, you might be used to such things having cats who hunt, without benefit of a Little House on the Prairie-esque childhood - or as LHotP-esque as a childhood can get in central New Jersey in the 70s and 80s anyhow.)

I got the opossum bagged up and headed for home. The next day the other mom called me to tell me, very excitedly, that she'd called the town and they had immediately sent over the proper authorities for such things to collect the animal for testing. I believe they were more concerned with rabies than anything else, and it wasn't exactly a cluster, being just one, sad marsupial, but still, she was *very* excited. Apparently they don't get much wildlife in her neighborhood.

They didn't leave her any brochures, as far as I know, but I wouldn't mind learning about signs of rabies in squirrels as we have hundreds of them in our yard. Some of them even go after our cat when they see her in the window (she's indoors-only) - chipmunks, too.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

I've gone to pick up dead possums in the yard before, only to discover - to the surprise of both of us - that it wasn't dead at all. Just playing possum. Very convincingly.

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just watched the "Two Book Review" video on youtube, and all I can say is: Yellow trousers on grass?! What were you thinking?
Maybe your answer to the question about your wardrobe should have been that you have a fine wardrobe... it's just all grass-stained.

:-)

3:23 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

This possum was definitely deceased. There were visible entrails. I think if it had been alive, that might've freaked the poor woman out more. Heh.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Dodi said...

You know someone who was at ground zero for the 2010 West Nile season - which means YOU have the very best story to share at cocktail parties this summer! Thank you for the laugh!!

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story! I think that there are many people that are hyper about some of those diseases. Love all your blogs, thank you for making me smile.

5:45 PM  
Anonymous MidLifeMama said...

We watched a crow die in the driveway at work a few years ago, when West Nile was a big deal here in the east. The guy who lives next door works for the state lab so they called and had the bird picked up and TA DA West Nile. But that was it. Very anticlimatic.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

We had a possum in our house once. Well, twice actually. The second time the local police came with shot guns. I had three young children sleeping upstairs. What were they thinking?

Oh. And West Nile? My dad's 80 something neighbor had it. She recovered, but has since died. So has my dad. West Nile isn't nearly as deadly as old age.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Quirky said...

I don't recall ever being jealous of someone who knows someone who knows something that has West Nile virus before. Until now, that is.

Your story sounds so exciting that I can't help peeking out the windows and scanning the yard for some of the recently departed. (Sadly, nothing...yet).

I suppose I will have no choice but to sulk for the rest of the day because nothing exciting ever bites the dust in our yard. Sigh.

9:26 AM  
Blogger RhondaG said...

I loovve your youtube/ mini episodic tv postings. This has nothing to do with dead birds. A question from one tea lover to another, iced and hot? No Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf? Japanese cherry is the absolute best.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Michaéle said...

I can only hope that West Nile invades the looming population of magpies in my trees. They dive bomb my dogs (Dobermans, no less) to get to their food (meals are inside again for now) and I get so sad seeing the dead babies still in their eggs from the nests they pirate. And no, I wouldn't pick them up either..oh gawd, I get the willies just thinking about THAT.

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the first sentence of this post way too fast and thought that you found a dead cow in your front yard.

11:29 AM  

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