My bird feeder is a banquet of visual delight. I sit at my desk, try to write a sentence, and am continually interrupted because a new little guy has popped onto a perch to demand my attention.
Hmmmm. Black feathers. Thin patch of yellow over bright red shoulder patches. I reach for my National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Flip to perching birds. Flip. Flip. Flip. Aha! Red-winged blackbird.
Elegant fellow, isn’t he? Looks like Fred Astaire in a tuxedo, all fancied up with a dapper red cummerbund and a top-of-the-world cock to his head.
Back to my computer. Write a few more words. Well. Helloooooo. Who are you and where did you come from? Took a stroll through a rainbow, did you? Brilliant blue head. Wings in receding shades of yellow, turquoise, chartreuse, gray and blue. Eye-popping orange undercarriage. Back to my Field Guide. Back to perching birds. There you are. Painted bunting!
Welcome to my world, Mr. Painted Bunting. Now, beat it. I have work to do. I force my eyes down. I look at my keyboard. I furrow my brow. I frown. I scowl. I can’t resist. I look up again.
I’ll be damned. Two of my old regulars are back! Gold finches always look like party ornaments; put enough of them on the tips of an evergreen, and it looks like an electrified Christmas tree. And chickadees are happy little tykes with black skullcaps (did you go to synagogue this morning to pray?), white cheeks, black throats, and white bellies. My father used to call us his “Little Chickadees,” so they have a special place in my heart.
Welcome home, buddies.
Back to my keyboard. Back to my… (bleh!) obligations.
Type. Type. Type. Lift my head. Peek out the window. Oh my God! Three of you ... all at once. Blue jay, looking, as usual, like an arrogant bully. Shove any sparrows into their lockers lately? Cardinal. Hey, Handsome. I like your goatee! And hairy woodpecker, pecking away at a square of suet. Nice to see you, fellows. Enjoy your breakfast, and ... Hey. Hey, there! Damn you, Mr. Blue Jay, leave those other birds alone!
OK. Resume work, and this time, I mean it. Head bowed. Jaw clenched. Uh oh. I feel an eyelid begin to wander irresolutely. I force my eyes back to the page. I write. I delete. I write more. And …
Phew. Last sentence. Finished! Winter over and column created commemorating the return of the birds in the spring. Reward time! Drive to the X-tra Mart for the best cup of coffee in the world.
I get in my car. I start down the driveway. My eyes drift to the left. I blink. I stare. There he is, right where I didn’t expect him. Placid. Dignified. Unspectacular. And so touchingly, touchingly ordinary.
Funny how he stands. Not with his head jutting out horizontally like the other birds, but held high. Like a philosophy professor surveying the academic potential of the new students in his class. Why have I never noticed before that his beak is gently curved and yellow, or that his back is so erect. His wonderful fat belly, though. I know that. Oh, yes. That is etched in my brain as deeply as my ABCs, because the first time I drew him, I was learning my ABCs. My teacher handed me a bright orange crayon and instructed me to color in his downy breast.
Years ago, long before any of us were born, a songwriter named Harry Woods said it best:
“When the red red robin goes bob bob bobbin’ along, along.
There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old, sweet song”
I put my car in park, open the door, and get out. I look down. He stops pecking at the ground. His pert black eyes stare up at me. Wow! I think. This is the exact same bird who ate breadcrumbs in my backyard when I was two, ten, twelve, eighteen years old. He doesn’t look like a rainbow or an ornament on a Christmas tree. He isn’t a bully, and he isn’t exotic. He may have shunned my birdfeeder, but he doesn’t shun or fear me. He greets me with a series of cheerful twerps.
“Wake up, wake up you sleepy head
Get up, get out of bed
Cheer up, cheer up the sun is red
Live, love, laugh and be happy!”
I return to my house. I flip open my Field Guide. “Although considered a harbinger of spring, robins often winter in the northern states … and are not usually noticed by casual observers.”
Guilty as charged. One: I had not seen a single robin all winter. Two: I have always considered robins to be harbingers of spring.
I close my book and gaze out at my birdfeeder. It is brightly festooned with finches, chickadees, cardinals, and woodpeckers. I don’t know where they were all winter, but they’re back. Nice.
Then I go outside, walk a few hundred feet, and see another lone, independent fellow with his red breast thrust out proudly and his head held high. Briefly, for less than a minute, he turns to look at me. I give him a one-fingered salute, and smile. Then, revitalized, because I now know that it really truly is spring, I warble:
“I’m just a kid again doing what I did again, singing a song
When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along.”
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2011, Shelly Reuben