Al Batt: The case of the purloined 3/8-inch combination wrench

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I’ve never wrestled with a grizzly bear with an impacted tooth or tangled with a mountain lion that had just lost his job in the biotech industry, but I have been the victim of a fly-by pooping by a gang of ruthless gulls and had a run-in with a Canada goose. I called the honker a “wawa,” which is a Native American name for a Canada goose. The gander took exception to that and routed me.

Al Batt

I was communing with nature, mostly ticks, while I built a lawn mower out of a can of baked beans, pork chop bones and duct tape. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. I was trying to bring an ailing push lawn mower back to good health. I figured I knew about 5% of what I needed to know to repair the machine.

I made numerous trips to the  shed to fetch things. The shed was an endless abyss of what could kindly be called junk, but it did house tools.

Among the vast collection of tools I was using was a miniature combination (which has an open-end jaw and a box end) wrench set. I needed the 3/8-inch wrench.

I worked like a rented mule at my task. I’d labored on the lawn mower steadily over several presidential administrations. Three crows cawed at me from a towering maple tree. Crows don’t need to be customers to offer customer complaints. I threatened to put them on my “do not caw list.” 

American crows are members of the Corvidae family. In Minnesota, that family includes blue jay, gray jay, common raven and black-billed magpie. The cartoon characters Heckle and Jeckle are yellow-billed magpies and not from the Gopher State. All Corvids are wicked smart. Both the crow and the raven are robust birds with black feathers, sturdy legs and large bills. The raven is larger, twice the weight of the crow. The crow heralds its presence with a caw, while the raven’s call is a guttural croak. The raven has a longer bill, shaggy throat feathers (hackles) and extensive nose bristles, which the crow neither has nor wants. In flight, the crow has a fan-shaped tail, while the raven shows a wedge-shaped tail.

Because they are part of nature’s sanitation crew, it’s common to see crows feeding upon carrion on a road. They are hit infrequently by passing trucks, but are never struck by cars. The reason is that crows feeding on a road have a lookout crow stationed in a nearby tree or on a utility pole. When a car approaches, the sentry calls “car, car, car” and the dining crows fly to safety. Crows, however,  haven’t learned to say “truck.”

There are no ravens where I live, so the big birds heckling me were crows.

I felt peckish and broke for lunch. I went into the kitchen and made myself a sandwich by slicing some delicious cheddar cheese and ate it with soda bread. 

I faithfully put my tools away — typically in a good place I won’t remember, but I felt no need to put the small wrenches away that day because I was still using them.

After taming my appetite, I came out of the house and allowed the wooden screen door to slam, causing the three crows to fly away over my head. Two of them cawed. The third couldn’t because it had a shiny object clamped in its bill.

Upon investigation, I discovered the object was my 3/8-inch wrench, the one wrench I needed. Why couldn’t the thieving crow have taken the 1/8-inch spanner? 

I serve on a nature-related organization’s board. We’ve considered obtaining a trained American crow from Indiana. Our enterprise is in Alaska. Why bring a flying Hoosier to The Last Frontier? Because the crow’s skill is in greedily grabbing dollar bills from the hands of audience members. That crow would be a feathered fundraiser for us.

Crows sometimes make and use tools. This crow stole them. I don’t know why the crow needed the wrench. Maybe it was building a crow feeder.

For the rest of its life, that thieving crow had something to crow about.

I consider myself lucky the crow didn’t steal my identity.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.