I WON'T SAY I feel about the mockingbird just the way Ronald Reagan feels about Fidel Castro, but it's close.
I hasten to add, out of respect for the birds' fans, a formidable and fervent flock I happen to know, that my hostility is mixed with sincere admiration for my adversary's gall and talent -- where did he learn the first three notes of the Mozart flute concerto which is his musical signature?
I know how many people feel about feathered mockers from the mail that poured in some years back when I wrote about going eyeball to eyeball with Fidel, as I may well call him. In brief, he hounded me out into the cold and icy streets the day after a blizzard.
For hours, he hopped up and down the windowsill of the kitchen, where I was trying to hide from him, and banged on the window until I gave in and went to the Safeway to buy him raisins.
I thought I was making a point about giving in to bullies, but it was plain from the response that I had wasted my breath. My correspondents were obviously besotted. One man wrote pages about "Casper" and 'Bonjour," the mockingbird couple who had conned him into building them a kind of Taj Mahal birdhouse -- I believe it had several baths -- and, I believe, into serving them filet mignon.
Lately, I met another cultist at a party, who raved on about his mockingbird, who had divebombed him that morning on his way to work. This man was a good liberal, and I wondered at his applause for such aggressive behavior.
"You know," he said, "the mockingbird is the only bird that will attack human beings in defense of its young."
A couple of springs ago, Fidel had forbidden me to read on my patio. He would buzz my nose and savage the newspaper. I had not associated this particular campaign of terror with parental solicitude. I assumed it was a part of his plan to conquer the world -- all the other birds scattered at his approach, except the mourning doves, who wern't standing up for their rights, by the way. They just couldn't see him.
After the raisin showdown, he transferred his patronage to my neighbor upstairs, who, and I have said this to his face, is Fidel's pigeon. There is no wait at my neighbor's groaning board. My neighbor, I believe, would rise up out of his deathbed to put out Fidel's raisins.
So he passes by with a great flirt of his wings, pausing only to sneer at my poor garden, a pitiful collection of neurosis, blight and malaise. Fidel knows how much time I have spent there and to what little avail.
I knew, of course, that he was casing the one exception. A kind friend brought me a blueberry bush from New Hampshire. Uprooted from a lovely forest home, it put on an astonishing display of New England character and adaptability. Early in the spring, for instance, it put forth delicate mauve pink buds, which turned to beautiful white blossoms. As I watched in wonder, the blossoms became small, but unmistakable, blueberries.
Fidel disappeared. I knew where he was. He was plotting the heist, lining up a fence, perfecting his alibi. I began to brood. I asked around, and was told that I had to get a shroud for my treasure. The idea of veiling my one sucess seemed a little cruel -- and a victory for Fidel and his kind.
But I went to a hardware store. I was shown a length of netting so course that it would have made Fidel, with his surgical beak, laugh aloud. "It works very well on tomatoes," said the clerk. I sadly went away.
I didn't venture to a fabric shop. The one I know best is staffed with hard-bitten types who take a firm line with customers who are seasonally obssessed with transforming their young into clowns, angels, witches and fairies and, eventually, brides. I could not face asking one of these Nurse Ratchets for veiling -- I could hear the dripping irony of "For yourself, darling?" To say, "No, for a mockingbird" was beyong contemplation. They would have called the cops.
The berries turned as blue as the New Hampshire sky. And they were sweet. My neighbor and I each tasted one on the Fourth of July. I told her I would pick the next day.
There was no tomorrow. Fidel, naturally, had bugged the bush, and he struck during the night. Every ripe berry had been stripped clean. I found one he overlooked, defiantly ate it, and he struck again. Next day, the red berries were gone, too. He wanted it all.
What will I do next year? Well, I'm thinking of resuming the raisin tribute. Appeasement? No -- abject surrender. And what's wrong with it? Make him so fat he'll know he can't make it to the getaway car. Make him think I like him. Take the fun out of harassing me.
I'm not saying it's an example to Ronald Reagan, but maybe it's a thought.