And What of Your Backyard
I have lived in small towns. I have lived in wilderness. I have lived in huge cities. Presently I call a small urban community of little cheek to jowl houses and preoccupied people, home. But whether it is couch grass finding that one wide crack in an endless ribbon of pavement, a total surround of forest, or a small backyard particularly inviting to birds, we are never abandoned by nature nor out of reach of its constant invitation – be here, be here now, with us.
Bert and I have moved a number of times while we’ve been together. We may abandon furniture or old clothing with each new address, but our books and bird feeders always make the trip. The trees in this part of the city are aged and tall. Like great grandparents, they are showing their years but as well their experience, and in this yard, they welcome the birds. Bert and I have always loved feeding birds, not because they need us, but because we need them, what they have to share with us about living full out. I call it our own little peaceable kingdom with sparrows, chickadees, tufted titmice up on the feeders, the doves, pigeons, and squirrels shoulder to shoulder on the ground, and the occasional chipmunk that the 100 neighborhood cats have overlooked. It is a grand, glorious, melodic mix of characters meeting the dawn each morning.
One thing the birds have taught me over time is that much of what I learned as a student of zoology was sheer malarkey, since those writing down their theories and observations did not see the world from the birds’ point of view. Let’s face it; a great deal of science is interpretation. Sparrows are supposed to land upright, but upon watching the nuthatch land upside down on its feeder, the sparrows apparently sensed the fun of it, and next thing I knew there they were too, landing upside down. A couple of hairy moments preceded a final smooth landing, and I said aloud to no one in particular, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
We’ve had robins visit almost any month of the year. I asked them in December, “What are you doing here?” as they took over the bath and filled the air with springtime song.
They replied, “What does it look like?”
Then there was this opportunistic wren, which I suppose is a redundancy if you know wrens. He spent a windy, wet night curled up in the robin’s nest in a small spruce. A little clutch of feathers caught my eye as I passed by it and a pang hit me, oh a baby didn’t make didn’t make it out. I took a breath and peered in more closely to be met by the glowered stare of a wren who said with no uncertainty, “What are you looking at, lady?” I remember hearing myself apologize to him and back away, realizing why Mother Nature didn’t let them get any bigger than they were.
Two days ago a murmuration of starlings and grackles stopped by for a meal and a bath. When I first heard them they were high up in the trees a ways off somewhere. I could hear them but not see them. I went about filling the feeders and throwing out some peanuts and cracked corn on the ground, then went to put a suet cake in the suet feeder. As I tried to rip off the thin plastic cover, it split in two. I pulled off one half making a small ripping sound. The entire starling and grackle population all stopped singing at once. Total silence. Then, their burble started back up. Happenstance? Well, let me tell you. I pulled off the other half. Again total silence. What happened next I can’t explain, but several seconds later, the huge flock moved from wherever they were to high up in the trees over my head without me seeing them arrive. All of a sudden, they were there; their suet feeder now full.
They live present. They know everything that goes on around them without limits of time and distance. What a fascinating way to live. And the crazy thing is so do we, but we’re generally too distracted to notice. I prefer their choices myself. I thrill to how it feels to share the world with them, those who revel in its spacious, accepting, energetic and unfettered nature. It’s a breath of reality for us humans too often trying to be something were not… not yet having recognized the marvels of what we truly are. Whatever you might call your backyard, it’s time to visit it, now.