Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

Beheadings, Plums, and the Spring I Flirted With Madness

A domestic mystery in my wine-country backyard

When you are having kids, people warn you you will lose your sleep, you will lose your independence, you will lose your sanity. But nobody warns you that you will also lose your space.

It happened to me.

I used to have a home office.

I loved my home office.

It not only had a desk with a printer but also a futon. I could get up, walk to the futon, take breaks, naps, lie down, and read books. Whenever I was upset with Justine or, more often, Justine was upset with me, I’d sleep on the futon, especially if Justine was upset with me for snoring like a tugboat.

Some mornings, I’d open the window, just a crack, and my work would have ambient noise. The noise was from all the different birds that visit our backyard. And we have so many birds: owls, pigeons, bluebirds, blue jays, sparrows, hummingbirds, once a turkey vulture, once a hawk, and once a gray heron. We are also surrounded by a family of no less than nine thousand crows.

We have gaggles of turkey, which I include separately because they shouldn’t be included with flying birds. I know the turkeys are visiting when I hear scratches on the roof, and my dog starts barking at the sounds.

When I walk outside, I see ten of them walking around, confused (as everybody is) as to how they got up, and then I see them awkwardly flying down. I waved to them with a sincere, “See you at Thanksgiving, guys!”

One day, I heard a mysterious and loud shriek I couldn’t identify. I walked to the window and looked up at our neighbor’s giant redwood to see if I could spot the bird.

That’s what I did with the heron.

But I couldn’t see the bird who was making the mysterious shriek.

The shriek went away.

Over the next few days, I heard the shrieks more often. I asked my wife if she was hearing them, too, to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind.

And she was.

The shrieks continued for weeks, and while they were happening, my wife and I spent quite a bit of time sitting on our deck and looking at the different trees to see if we could spot the animals making these noises.

It was a loud, aggressive, annoying bird call that crept under our skin.

We spent those couple of months in a similar nightmarish loop. We would sit down on the deck and look for the birds in the trees throughout the day. Then, at night, we would research animal sounds on YouTube.

“Listen to this; this is a mamma sparrow.”

“Whoa, that’s close. Try a baby now.”

“Good idea!”

“ Hmmm, I don’t know. It’s close, too.”

And on and on until we had exhausted all the birds and animals we knew could be around our backyard.

But nothing.

We couldn’t crack it, and it slowly started affecting my mental health where there was nothing else that mattered in my life but understanding the origin of this call.

One day, in this dark period of my life, I pulled up my driveway and saw that someone had left a package next to my door.

There was a Ziploc with three plums, an egg cardboard sawed off in half, and another Ziploc with what looked like two chicken breasts with feathers.

I picked up the note and, in our neighbor’s handwriting, said, “I hope our quails have not been too loud!”




I ran to my office, got on my tippy toes, and looked over our neighbor’s fence, and sure enough, I was finally able to see the coop where the sounds were coming from.

I made it a point to hover in my front yard until I saw my neighbor to ask her, “So, quails, ah?”

When I talked to her, she told me how it all came together.

After her husband went to work and her babies were asleep, she found herself in Facebook marketplace as mothers often do and saw a post for quail eggs.

She thought, “I woke up this morning not knowing I wanted quail eggs, but right now I can’t think of anything better.”

She messaged the person to get in on this deal. She drove to the edge of town in Petaluma, where the farms are in unincorporated land.

When she got to the farm, she found quail eggs and plenty of quails.

The woman was getting rid of the birds. My neighbor was told if she wanted eggs, she could take the quails.

She thought, “I woke up this morning not thinking this is how my morning was going to play out. I didn’t know I wanted quail eggs but I want them. The body wants what it wants.”

So she decided, “I came here to get a dozen eggs; I’ll get a dozen quails instead.”

The woman replied, “You either take them all, or you take none.”

My neighbor must have been one of those days where you wake up and set your mind to something, and no matter what happens, you will get that one thing done.

So she trudged on with operation “Get Quail Eggs” and took all fifty-six quails. She put them in boxes and stuffed them in her very midsize suburban CRV.

Don’t worry about my neighbor, though, because here is a little-known fact if you are not a farmer of quails. In confined spaces, quails are super aggressive. My neighbor started with 56 quails, and when she opened the trunk to retrieve her flock of quails, she had only 19 left. Their family members had brutally murdered the rest.

Her husband comes home, and here is the thing you need to know about him: he is super chill. He sees all these birds and thinks, “Well, this is my life now. I’m a small-time aviculturist.”

Aviculturist is the appropriate word if you are wondering. It is the same word for someone who has birds as pets and someone who wants to pluck their feather, behead them, and grill their meat. It seems to me those should be two different words, but such is language.

I really want to tell you the quails lived happily ever after, but that wouldn’t be true.

Because they don’t like confined spaces and are very aggressive, they kept killing each other.

Crows would attack them whenever my neighbor let them out of their coop.

And when a neighbor blew the whistle, what was left of them were unceremoniously beheaded and passed around to the neighbors who weren’t snitches.

I miss the sounds of quails in my yard. But I also enjoyed their meat and eggs.

I enjoy even more, the quiet now that they are gone.


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