I grew up in a family of backyard bird-watchers. My grandfather hung feeders on poles high off the ground that aligned with the windows of what he called his den—the room with the old-fashioned typewriter and a worn green leather recliner smelling faintly of Old Spice after-shave. He’d crank the casement windows open, and I would help him fill different kinds of seed feeders and dab peanut butter into logs with holes drilled into them. He taught me to identify chickadees and male and female cardinals and different kinds of finches, and in the spring, we’d listen to their calls. My mother kept feeders although she was a little less diligent, so hers were more prone to squirrel reconnaissance and destruction.
This year I moved one of the suet feeders outside a window near our kitchen table. The nuthatches and downy woodpeckers convene there for morning coffee hour–nibbling at the seed-encrusted block of fat and chatting amongst themselves. A crowd of obnoxious starlings shows up in the late afternoons, and I’m occasionally greeted with a view of a spread-eagled squirrel balanced on the pole. The terriers are happy to dispatch all unwanted encroachers.
The feeder is positioned in the window right above the small TV where we watch the news, and I can’t help but notice the contrast between what I see on the screen and what I see outside my window. In fact, I’m not sure I could watch the news without knowing those birds are right outside, doing what they always do – eating and chattering and sipping from the birdbath, now warmed with a heater. They are a source of comfort and reminder that nature is still there in the midst of the terrible chaos of the world.
Some days I think my jaw can’t drop any lower in shock and horror with what I’m seeing. It’s all I can do to watch the innocent people of Ukraine having their lives and country destroyed by a tyrant consumed with greed and lust for power. Almost worse than what I watch is what I hear—the barrage of lies, cruelty, and manipulation of the truth that has become our new normal. The mass consumption of disinformation, fueled by the rants and blathering of social media, is not only tearing us apart but creating an epidemic of rude and selfish behavior everywhere from stores and airline flights to school board meetings. Last night, when I heard shouting during the President’s speech, I thought perhaps hecklers had gotten into the House Chamber, but it came from two of our own elected representatives.
Each morning, this curmudgeonly retiree stares out her window to hold onto some balance and perspective. An entire flock of red-winged blackbirds gathered under the seed feeders this week, so they’re officially back in the neighborhood. I saw a bluebird inspecting the house in the front yard for possible occupancy and the finches are hitting the thistle seed especially hard—maybe it takes extra calories to start turning yellow? In another month, I’ll replace the wire suet feeders with red plastic bowls of sugar water and start checking the migration maps for the hummingbirds’ progress. As I provide food, water, and shelter for these beautiful creatures, I long for the innocence of the days when I learned about wild birds at my grandfather’s side. But the fact that the birds I watched as a child still return with each passing season gives me hope, and I am grateful for their song.