Underwater ouzels? Yeah, sure…

My ex-father-in-law is a former logger of the vast Pacific Northwest, so it stands to reason he’s seen some strange things in his time (not the least of which are the lively antics of fellow loggers of the vast Pacific Northwest).

I’ve learned over the years to refrain from challenging my ex-father-in-law’s tall tales because no sooner do I do so than he provides incontrovertible proof of their veracity.

I poked fun at his tales of tree-climbing gunmen in dog suits, only to have him show me that police had been summoned to round up just such a gang of armed canine impersonators.

Then he told me about the Butte County terrorist who was kidnapping goats, painting them green and threatening lawmen with a golf bag.

Again I expressed disbelief and my ex-father-in-law – also known as Bill – promptly produced a newspaper that described the incident in lurid detail.

(It should be noted that Butte County lawmen aren’t usually intimidated by empty golf bags, but in this instance they thought the bag was a light anti-tank weapon. Nobody knows exactly why.)

Bill has been strangely reticent in recent months, but last week he tried to sneak a flock of ouzels past me.

“Haven’t seen any ouzels around here, but they always used to be up on the creek, walking around underwater,” Bill mentioned. “We used to call them water ouzels because they’d be right up by the creek and then ‘Zeet!’ down they’d go for a stroll around on the bottom.”

Yeah, like I’m going to fall for that. No way am I going to bite on a story about underwater ouzels.

Without a word I spooned up another helping of my ex-mother-in-law’s Frito-and-bean casserole and waited for Bill to continue.

“We sure loved those little ouzels, even though we hardly ever saw them because they were always stomping around on the bottom. You know, underwater?” Bill continued enthusiastically. “I wonder what the crawdads thought of ’em…”

When I didn’t respond to his description of the avian submariners, Bill must have signaled to my ex-mother-in-law, who produced an obscure ornithological text and pointed out a small bird pictured therein.

“There’s one. It’s just not called an ouzel, but if it was, that’d be what an ouzel looks like,” she explained.

“Uh-hmmmm,” I muttered noncommittally, determined not to be caught off guard. No matter what they said, the two wily senior citizens weren’t going to get me to challenge the existence of water ouzels.

Then my daughter cheerfully entered the conversation.

“Oh yeah, Dad – there used to be oodles of ouzels up near Deer Creek. We saw them all the time, jumping into the water, jumping out of the water, jumping into the water, jumping out of the water, jumping into the water…”

My ex-father-in-law now had me at a distinct disadvantage. Although I didn’t believe there were any such things as water ouzels, to voice unsubstantiated dissent would certainly invite disaster.

I eventually scuttled into the night without having uttered more than eight words during the course of the meal.

Help me out here – if you’ve ever seen a water ouzel, heard a water ouzel or eaten a water ouzel, drop me a line. I’ll probably be seeing my ex-father-in-law by Labor Day and I’ll be damned if he gets the jump on me again…

Originally published July 1, 2001