For the birds

From my kitchen window I can see a male and female cardinal, red and brown against the snow and far more colorful than the juncos who come every day to feed on the seed I leave for them and then come the bluejays who delight in chasing away the juncos who only come back when the bluejays leave but the jays don’t seem to frighten the cardinals.

Every time it snows I have to go out and put down more seed because I fear the birds won’t be able to find the old seed under the snow which my wife thinks is nutty because she trusts the birds to be able to get what they need and knows much more about them than I do but I look at it this way:

Suppose her best friend was outside of our house, hungry and cold, and looking around for food under the snow. Wouldn’t she go out and make sure there was some food that was easier to find? Of course she would.

Well, when you spend all day at home alone, you get pretty friendly with birds even if it’s only a one-way friendship because they flee every time I go out the door, which is a little depressing, but when I go back into the house, they return and I sit at the kitchen table and read and watch them and listen to, today, the Toronto jazz station because Radio Adelaide and Radio New Zealand were playing orchestral music which I don’t like, much preferring string quartets.

I am not a birder. I will not travel to Block Island in October to watch winged creatures migrate to whereever. I don’t find that thrilling and while I would not at all mind seeing some rare or unusual bird, I prefer to see them in my yard. Let them do the traveling, I figure. I’ll happily feed them and watch them and, if they wish, interact with them and protect them from cats, even mine, but even if one of the cardinals presented me with an engraved invitation to a migration watch, I doubt I’d go. I’d think up some excuse.

I’m good at thinking up excuses, plus I have some standard ones always in the back of my mind so that I’m prepared for almost any eventuality, but I’m really good at thinking on my feet.

Many years ago, for instance, I forgot I had a date with Carol and never showed up and weeks later she confronted me about it and I said, very quickly, “Oh, man, I am so sorry but I broke my leg.”

She was skeptical. She said, “It looks all right now and it wasn’t that long ago.”

I said, “I’m a fast healer.”

She just walked away. I think I was lucky. Had Carol thought faster, she might have said, “Yeah? See how fast you heal from this,” and smacked me.

So I figure I can out-think any winged creature.

Once Kathy and I did go to the migration watch on Block Island and as usual I dug the ferry ride over but once I got there and got up really, really early in the morning to go birding with a lot of people with telescopes and binoculars, I thought, “What am I doing here?” I couldn’t tell a warbler from a roc, but I’m pretty sure warblers exist. It’s said rocs are only mythical, but I don’t know. Myths are usually based upon something.

I don’t remember seeing anything of great interest on Block Island but I do remember that the Surf Hotel had a decent breakfast.

I guess birding is like any other hobby, although I don’t know what people consider hobbies anymore. Does anyone collect stamps or coins? Why? For the same reason others collect names of birds they’ve seen, I suppose. And for the same reason I keep a total of the laps I do at the Hampshire Hills pool. Well, maybe not. In my case, it’s because I love numbers and like to challenge myself. For instance, this year I am SCREAMINGLY DETERMINED to cover 5,000 laps which comes out to 250,000 meters which comes out to 154.32 miles which is a lot for me but pales in comparison to what the late Rod Hansen used to do. Man, he was persistent. Any time I got to the front door of HH at 4:50 a.m. and didn’t see Rod, I knew he was away because when he was home, BAM!, he was there, ready to go.

And I don’t remember him ever wearing a coat, no matter the weather. The other 4:50 a.m. crew members would be bundled up, freezing, hoping for an early door-opening and Rod would wander up in some sort of light jacket and just wait, although he always tried the door because years before, when he hadn’t tried it, it was actually unlocked, so he decided to try it every day, just in case.

It took me a couple of years to figure out why Rod never dressed as warmly as I – because if he happened to be cold when he entered the pool, the water would seem warm even if it were less than 80 degrees. I tried that, driving from Lyndeborough to HH in the middle of winter without turning on the heat and dressing a little less warmly and you know what? When I got into the pool and the temperature was under 80 degrees – I WAS FREEZING.

So maybe that wasn’t why Rod did it.

Anyway, I count laps in the vain and searching hope that one Dec. 31 I will look at my total for the year and think, “Man, that’s almost Rod-like.”

As for birds, yeah, well, if a California condor winds up poking around our pond, I’ll be reasonably excited. But I’ll be darned if I’m going to California just to see one. You want to be seen, condor? Fly east, young bird.

Sometimes we get crows and I’ve learned, somewhere, that crows hold grudges, so if you throw a rock at a crow – a stupid thing to do anyway, regardless of grudges – the crow will remember you and caw like a maniac whenever he sees you. I think that’s cool.

I hold grudges.

I learned that from my mother who could go for years without talking to neighbors or friends or relatives for any perceived slight. We differ,

though, when it comes to revenge: She never seemed to seek it.

I plan upon it and I don’t care if it takes 20 years.

I don’t know how long crows hold grudges. I don’t know how long crows live. But I try really hard not to tick them off.

It’s kind of cool, though, watching birds while I read but the best time is in the summer when I make the hummingbird nectar and can sit on the deck while they fly around me and ignore the cat who is sleeping nearby in the sun and the cat ignores them and we all get along.

Kind of like North and South Korea.

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