Morning mist sifts through the hills, veils the snow-laden fields. The sky is a soft, quiet grey. From a south window, the scene is calm. But when I turn west to where the bird feeder hangs from the clothesline post, my eyes fall on a flurry of feathered movement.
Chickadees, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and hordes of blue jays crowd the space. The red-breasted nuthatches cling upside down to the post, heads jutting forward like sharp-eyed lawyers freshly called to the bar. Their cousins, the white-breasted nuthatches, nattily dressed in slate blue and white suits, hop swiftly about on the ground, munching as they go. The chickadees balance on the clothesline before swooping to the bird feeder, grabbing a black sunflower seed, and winging to a nearby branch where they peck determinedly at the seed clutched between their claws. Sometimes three or four sway on the clothesline, waiting their turn. They are polite and willing to share.
Not so the blue jays. Raucous and quarrelsome, they jump at each other, blue chest to blue chest, wings flapping, eyes glaring. A few of them have mastered the art of balancing on the bird feeder, but it’s hard, uncomfortable work. Most of the jays are lazier, preferring to stuff their gullets with seeds scattered on the ground.
For the past month, a rare treat: half a dozen evening grosbeaks. We haven’t seen them for years. Resplendent in their olive and yellow plumage, they are quite skittish. I have to be extra careful and watch them from a distance. Any sudden movement or noise and they spring upward, beating away to the highest branches. They wait patiently until assured that things are safe before heading back down.
I watch the birds for long moments, smiling at their antics. The daily feeding circus brings me right into the present moment, evaporating all preoccupations and worries.
I’m not alone. With the pandemic forcing many of us to remain at home, backyard bird feeding has surged. Turns out we don’t need to fly to faraway destinations for respite and pleasure. Delight beckons, right under our noses.
The late Jane Kenyon knew this. I’m very fond of this poem of hers, especially knowing that she died of leukemia when she was only 47. I want to imagine that, like me, she experienced a joyful light-heartedness whenever she paused to look out at the feeding birds.
At the Feeder
First the Chickadees take
their share, then fly
to the bittersweet vine,
where they crack open the seeds,
excited, like poets
opening the day’s mail.
And the Evening Grosbeaks—
those large and prosperous
with the latest equipment, bright
yellow goggles on their faces.
Now the Bluejay comes in
for a landing, like a SAC bomber
returning to Plattsburgh
after a day of patrolling the ozone.
Every teacup in the pantry rattles.
The solid and graceful bodies
of Nuthatches, perpetually
upside down, like Yogis…
and Slate-Colored Juncoes, feeding
on the ground, taking only
what falls to them.
The cats watch, one
from the lid of the breadbox,
another from the piano. A third
flexes its claws in sleep, dreaming
perhaps, of a chicken neck,
or of being worshiped as a god
at Bubastis, during
the XXIII dynasty.
~ Jane Kenyon