First let me admit that it is at least half my fault. I cannot entirely blame the bluejay, the one I have come to call "Nemesis" for his lengthy criminal record.
After all, I am the one who originally planted the blueberry bushes in the back 40 (feet). A court-appointed defense attorney for Nemesis would undoubtedly describe these urban bushes as "an attractive nuisance." Berries are to birds what a swimming pool is to an asphalt jungle or a BMW to a deserted street. He might even convince a jury that this was a classic case of entrapment.
I maintain, however, that any enterprising, self-respecting creature who didn't merely want to rip off the labor of others and had some respect for private property could have found other sources. Mine are not the only blueberries within several city blocks. There is a supermarket right down the street.
If Nemesis chose my market, it was probably because he liked the hours. It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An aviary convenience store. Besides, the price was right and there was no check-out line.
But I am getting ahead of the story. Until recently, I considered Nemesis to be a decent enough neighbor. A bit noisy now and then, but you get used to that in the city. A touch aggressive, but up here we like a tough bird. Frankly, I respected him because he didn't escape south every winter.
As the bushes began to bear fruit, Nemesis began to hang around a bit, but I had no way of knowing that he was casing the joint. I thought he was admiring my day lilies.
Then, on about July 6 -- we must be careful with dates in criminal charges -- the jay bird began his career in larceny. The moment the berries turned blue, he turned greedy. The other birds in the neighborhood might have one for dessert, but Nemesis seemed to regard these bushes as all- you-can-eat night at Howard Johnson's.
Some members of the jury will say that I should have bought a net. Well, I did buy a net. This raised the cost of the berries to approximately $12 a pound and the charge to grand larceny. The net barely slowed him down.
But it wasn't the money that finally got me angry. It was the sheer gall of the bird. He had the cool that characterizes a sociopathic personality. I can call an expert witness on this. Any other bird would flee when I came outdoors, but Nemesis would not even flutter until I came within three feet. To describe him as cheeky is not enough. He had the nerve of a street-gang leader. All he needed was a leather jacket.
Now as any poll-taker from the American Enterprise Institute can tell you, a neoconservative is a liberal who's been mugged. The swiftest way to harden someone soft on crime is to trespass on her turf. So it was that I became a card-carrying member of the law-and-order ranks, wing- and-beak division.
Indeed there were moments, these past weeks, when my family feared that I would put a National Rifle Association sticker on the fence and buy a Sunday afternoon special. I took to charging at this fly-by-day criminal, screaming at him like someone in Marine boot camp. At the very least I was hoping to give him indigestion.
Finally, one glorious morning last week, I went outside to get my allotment of berries and there he was. My Nemesis was trapped under the netting. He couldn't find his way out. I had him cold.
As I approached, the bird dropped lost his cool and began flinging himself nervously from one side of his prison to the other. And what did I do? Hopeless recidivist in the ranks of the bleeding hearts, I lifted the netting and let him go.
I wish I could tell you that Nemesis learned his lesson and went straight. This is not the case. He has been back for his regular breakfast. Twice in the past week he has been caught again in the netting and twice more I have let him out. The last time I had the distinct impression that he had been sitting, calmly, waiting for me to help him out.
The reality is that I have become his accomplice, if not his advocate. Let out on bail, he commits another crime. Allowed only one telephone call from his prison, I am sure he would dial my number.
I have now decided to retreat to the last resort of liberalism. If I cannot reform Nemesis, I can decriminalize him. I shall deed him the right to eat my berries . . . I mean our berries . . . that is, if he doesn't mind sharing them with me.