This post is contributed by Barnaby Porter from his archives. Read the previous post here.

There was a time when it was not at all uncommon to see kids chasing around after robins with saltshakers. At least that was the case in our yard. A lot of the kids I knew used to chase robins. All of us who did it were believers in the practice. All of us who tried threw our hearts into it on the best advice of those who presumably knew – our mothers.

Oh, they knew all right. Those were the days before anyone watched much television (if they even had one), when parents still had some influence on how kids wasted their time.

“It’s a beautiful day outside,” mothers were always saying. “You should be out in the sunshine and fresh air.” And what sounded like a suggestion was really a parental command. We whined in rebellion our usual response, “There’s nothing to do out there. We’re bored.”

And with that, one of the most persistent hoaxes of the times was again perpetrated on the youth of America. Old Mum went to the cupboard and got out the saltshakers. As she handed one to each of us, she told us how wonderfully easy it would be to catch and tame a wild bird simply by sprinkling some salt on its tail.

We were instructed in the importance of stealth. We were told not to catch too many – really, one robin apiece was plenty. We were cautioned, above all else, to be kind to our bird friends, gentle. And that was about all the advice I can remember. The rest was up to us.

It was all downhill from there. We tiptoed. We crawled. We whispered signals to each other and hid in the bushes. Robins were everywhere out on the lawn, but no amount of stealth we were able to manage even got us close enough to call it a legitimate “miss.”

Sometimes we lost our heads. After many safaris entailing long minutes of careful stalking, we eventually learned from experience it was a fruitless exercise, and, out of excruciating frustration, it dawned on us the only remote chance of success lay in the “charge,” a wild, arms-flailing, bellowing charge across the lawn. That never worked either. I can remember getting so frustrated I threw the whole damned saltshaker after the fleeing robin and stormed back to the house.

So much for stealth and gentleness. So much for fresh air and sunshine. So much for catching and taming robins by sprinkling salt on their tails. It could be that it does work, but it never worked for any of us kids.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. In October 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.