Tilting At Windmills: The Red Red Robin - Encore
Published: May 20th, 2022
By: Shelly Reuben

Tilting at Windmills: The Red Red Robin - Encore

Here is a vintage column I adapted for today, because I continue to be hopelessly in love with spring!

As I sit at my desk trying to write a coherent sentence, I am continually distracted by a feathered friend at my bird feeder, whose antics are a banquet of visual delight. He has black feathers with a thin patch of yellow over-bright red shoulder patches.

I reach for my National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds and flip to “Perching Birds.” Flip. Flip. Flip.

Aha! Red-winged blackbird.

What an elegant fellow he is. Like a ballroom dancer all fancied up in a tuxedo with a dapper red cummerbund and a top-of-the-world cock to his head.

Back to my computer.

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I write a few more sentences. Yes, I can do this. I can stay in focus. I can. But ... well. Helloooooo. Who are you and where did you come from? A rainbow, I expect, with your eye-popping orange undercarriage, brilliant blue head, and wings in flashing shades of yellow, turquoise, chartreuse, gray and blue.

Once again, I refer to my Field Guide.


You’re a painted bunting! Welcome to my world, Mr. Painted Bunting. Now, beat it. I have work to do.

Again, I force my eyes down. I stare at my keyboard. I furrow my brow. I frown. I scowl. Then I sigh. I absolutely cannot resist. I look up, and I’ll be damned. There are goldfinches at my bird feeder. Put enough of them on the tips of an evergreen, and it looks like an electrified Christmas tree. Chickadees, too. Happy little tykes with black skullcaps (did you go to synagogue this morning to pray?) with 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.

Enough, though.

Back to my keyboard. Back to my… (bleh!) ... obligations.

Type. Type. Type. Sneak another peek out the window. Oh my God! Three newcomers. A blue jay, as usual, acting like an arrogant bully. A cardinal. Hey, Handsome. I like your goatee! And a hairy woodpecker, pecking away at a square of suet. Nice to see you, fellows. Enjoy your breakfast. But do it alone. Without me gazing upon you with adoration.

I resume the creative process. This time, I mean it. Head bowed. Jaw clenched.

Oh. Oh. Oh...

My eyes begin to wander. Stop! I force my focus back on the page. I write. I delete. I write more, more, more. Finally, I put a period at the end of the last sentence.

I am done for this week.

Reward time! I get my car. I’m on my way to my favorite café for the best cup of coffee in the world.

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I start down the driveway. I see a flutter of motion to my left. I blink. I stare. And there he is. Exactly 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 other birds, but high. Like a philosophy professor surveying the academic potential of new students to his class. His yellow beak is gently curved, his back is straight, and he has a wonderfully fat belly. I remember that belly. It’s just like it was when my first grade teacher handed me a coloring book and instructed me to fill in its bright orange breast.

Years ago, long before any of us were born, a lyricist named Harry Woods wrote:

“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, get out, and look down. Mr. Robin stops pecking at the earth. His pert black eyes turn up to mine, and I realize that he is the exact same bird who ate breadcrumbs in my backyard when I was five, ten, twelve-years-old. He isn’t exotic and he isn’t a bully. He doesn’t look as if he was born in a rainbow, and he’d make a pretty dull ornament for a Christmas tree. He has absolutely no interest in my birdfeeder, but doesn’t shun or fear me. Instead, 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 get back into my car and return to my house. Instead of rewarding myself at my favorite café, I make my own cup of coffee. I return to my desk to contemplate my birdfeeder. It is brightly festooned with goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals, and woodpeckers.


Then I go outside, walk a few hundred feet, and see another lone, independent fellow with his chest thrust out proudly and his head held high. Briefly, for less than a minute, he turns to look at me. I give him a two-fingered salute, and smile. Then, because virtue must be rewarded, and Mr. Robin Red Breast manifests the outstanding virtue of rock solid dependability, I croon:

“I’m just a kid again doing what I did again, singing a song

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along.”

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Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2022. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com