They Came with the Cold: On Patience, Bird Feeders, and New Beginnings

Juncos Dawn Huczek on Flicr

Junco courtesy of Dawn Huczek on Flickr

It hasn’t been a banner month for our bird feeders. Maybe they don’t enjoy the “wild bird” mix I put out. Maybe that disabled hawk we saw downed on our neighbor’s lawn – who we still spot, flying low, from time to time – has taken up residence and is scaring the smaller birds away. I worried that the local bird population had declined steeply, but others assure me that their feeders have been quite active!

How often did my mother tell me, growing up, that patience is a virtue?

It’s hard to be patient when time seems to be at such a premium. I peek out the back window when I hurry into the cold pantry for a scoop of Buddy’s kibble, or when I walk through the dining room. Nobody at the feeder. Well, not until lately.

A few days ago, when the temperature hovered close to 0, they crept in. A pair of woodpeckers lingered at the suet. They were moving so very slowly, and sometimes not at all for long stretches. They looked more like wax figurines than living beings, and I guessed they were likely in (or approaching) torpor.  Birds use torpor – “a state of slowed body functions” – to conserve energy and heat.

rose hips snow Hisgett

Chilled rose hips courtesy of Tony Hisgett on Flickr

The woodpeckers – Downy variety, I think –  are back today, and moving in normal fashion. It’s a (comparatively) balmy 10 degrees. The Downies are outnumbered by the Dark-eyed Juncos, though. I count seven juncos. When they are not at the feeder they congregate in the bare rosa rugosa bushes lining the deck. Will this be the year that I finally make my own rose hip tea or jelly, when the hips come back into bloom? It seems a good New Year’s resolution, and I think I’ve got at least 5 months to gear up for it!

In the shorter term, there’s so much to aspire to when the calendar flips over to 2018. I want to put more slips in the gratitude jar, inspired by my sister’s heartfelt book.  It’s not that I didn’t find moments to be grateful for in 2017—it’s that I don’t always stop to mark them. (And, yes, that is a literal and a figurative statement! The jar’s slips make tangible what my mind and spirit have taken in.) I want, no, NEED–more time in a state of awareness and contemplation and gratitude. More stopping and noticing and peering and pondering.  More letting the best parts of this world wash over me; less occupying my space and time with the superficial. I’ve even downloaded an app to track and limit my screen time—I’d like to say I use the blue screen to access moments of great meaning, but too often I am flitting about, grazing on what amounts to junk food for my brain and spirit.

Jar

Gratitude jar, with Gavin’s art in the background. To be read on New Year’s morning!

I had a few lovely micro-moments of observation and contemplation in recent days. They have made me hungry for more. The birds, who refuse to accommodate my schedule, are at last showing up with regularity. They dive in and forage the ground below the feeder. They stand in the snow in small clusters, so quiet at mealtime when I know that they could sing for their suppers quite operatically. They are worth every faithful stop at the windowpane, even if I don’t always find them when I hope to.

Branches in snow David Burns Flickr.jpg

Snow-laden branches courtesy of  David Burn on Flickr

Last night, Buddy required a nocturnal walk. My walks have been woefully brief due to a foot problem, and I miss my outside adventures so much. But I can still make mini-circuits around the yard (with apologies to the podiatrist). Last night’s circuit had me admiring how the snow adorned each horizontal limb of the cottonwood, and how the moon lit the yard in such a stirring and immersive way. I called Gavin outside to see it. Today I read a freshly minted poem by Amy Nawrocki that conveyed how I felt when I looked up at the night sky.

Wishing you peace, well-attended bird feeders, and many reverent moonlit walks in 2018.

PS: For some good reading on day-lit walks, check out these fine haibuns about the New England Trail.

Once Around

Both this weekend and last, I suffered from painful cases of the Shoulds. My long scroll of a TO DO list seems to be ever lengthening, and at the top are household chores by the dozen.

So I compromised last Sunday. I would walk Molly for 1 hour only. It takes an hour to foot the mile to town and back with this beagle who follows her nose, who strains with vigor and passion at the leash whenever a new smell beckons.

We set out at sunrise, treated to a Hallelujah Chorus from (mostly unseen) birds in the thick pines that line our yard. I admired a garter snake on the asphalt and right after that the prolific leavings from a neighbor’s cottonwood tree (it looked like snow was lining her driveway!). I later learned that “nuisance” cottonwoods have a lot going for them, and a proud history. I also read up on why birds sing at dawn, or at least the latest attempt to explain this mystery. (Science fully respected, but I think I’ll always experience the chorus as the ultimate hymn of joy and praise).

bobwhiteMy compromise morphed into a substantial ramble when I learned that Tom and Gavin were also up early. They met Molly and me at town dock, where we had breakfast and gazed out at the water. We watched a heron and tailed a pair of Northern Bobwhites ambling along Kirtland Street. We climbed the gradual hill to Mount Saint John, a stately fixture of Deep River since 1904. Tom photographed a bluebird peeking from its house on the grounds.

BluebirdHouse

MollyonWall

There were still Shoulds to return home to. In the hours following this happy indulgence, I caught up with the laundry and restored some sanity to our household environs. But I am so glad I took that 1-hour walk that turned into a 2-plus hour walk. And that later, we all took the drive to Middletown so we could learn about caterpillars and gather some phenology (the study of what happens, and when, in nature) data, courtesy of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. Phenology matters, much more than housekeeping and crossouts on the daily To DO list, and here’s a brief article that gives examples of why.