I set the 900-pound trash bag on the sidewalk as quietly as I could and closed the front door behind me. On tiptoes, I crept forward toward the lilac.
Yes, indeed indeed! Baby quail. Tiny balls of fluff scurrying around seed I’d tossed on our townhome’s front walk. Their feet made tiny swooshing sounds, and the little peeps that filled the air melted hearts within hearing range.
Mamma and Daddy squeaked, and en masse, the troop of eight scurried across the drive toward the pine bush.
I glanced back at my trash duty, then at the fluffy backsides escaping. I had to follow them.
The quail, as a family, bounced along a bird sized trail under the evergreen branches. I peered around the corner, spying on them with an unsettled feeling of voyeurism. Still, I pressed on.
Around a corner, they pivoted their tiny legs and shot through the complex, breaking the sound barrier. I started after them at a run, and nearly plowed over an older gentleman who walks the complex most of the day. He was the reason they’d darted away. I’ve been working on my personal character lately, and instead of snapping at him, I said, “Did you see the quail?”
His eyes, usually doleful and sad and lonely, were bright. “Yeah.”
“C’mon,” I said.
At the speed of old-man-trot, we followed them to a yucca, then through more bushes.
The old man was ninja enough to completely dodge the three-woman party talking around the carport wall. I wasn’t. I bumped—as gently as I could—a woman who was nearing ninety and had the disposition of a caffeinated Chihuahua. She dipped back, but my arms wrapped around her, saving her from a fall. I set her safe and sound back on her feet.
“Hustle,” the old man said. “They’re gettin’ away.”
We ‘hustled’ at a limp along a wood fence. A boy, maybe six years old, pedaled his bike alongside. “Whatcha doin’?”
“Shhhh,” the old man said. “Chasing quail.”
The boy leapt off the bike and followed.
The quail dashed forward, distancing themselves from the dogged pursuit. Our spirited charge wasn’t nearly as winded as our lungs, but when the quail ducked under the fence, single file, each waiting in line for the one in front to dive to freedom, we paused.
The old man looked at the six foot high fence, and said, “Let’s go round.”
On the other side, the field was completely empty except for a thick bush in the very center.
“Where do you think they went?” the boy asked.
I just looked at him, but the old man said, “Not that only bit of cover for a mile, surely.”
Sarcastic old men.
We approached the bush carefully, listening to the soft cooing inside. “The whole family’s in there,” I said, remembering a bit of reading I’d done on quail, and added, “these are California quail. They live in big families.”
Later, I took the trash to the dumpster.
Sometimes, as writers, we have tasks as fun as taking out trash. The scope of what must be done is burned in our brains—we know how it’s going to go. At times, odd events intervene, something that ignites our passions. Something that makes as much sense as three dudes chasing quail through the center of an apartment complex.