Tuesday, February 1, 2011

For the birds ......

Jessica, a friend of mine at work, has brought back to life something I once loved and thoroughly enjoyed, but had put out of my mind for a number of reasons.

About two weeks ago, I was in her office and my eyes flew immediately to her window where nuthatches, chickadees, sparrows, cardinals and many other beautiful song birds were lighting on the feeder she had affixed to the window.

For a few days I would pop into her office occasionally to see what activity she had ... a downy woodpecker one day, and then she emailed me she had a Carolina Wren, who I still have to witness first hand.

After about a week I asked her if she would mind if I, too, got a feeder for my office window.  She didn't feel that it was necessary for me to ask her, but I was concerned that she would think I was just being a copycat for something she felt passionately about.

She's good - she knows her birds and she loves them.

At first I was hesitant to discuss birding at any length with her.  Why?  The answer to almost every negative reaction I have is always "my mother."

My mother was a top birder.  She had a life list of over 600 and was recognized in CT as one of the best.

But like everything else, it came easy to her and if it didn't come easily to someone, or, God forbid, someone made a mistake, she would consider them a failure not worth having any further discussion with.

My mother did not know or care about birds until she married my stepfather and moved to the farm in Amenia.  My stepfather was by no means what anyone would call a birder, but as a farmer he took note of birds, mainly because of the circle of life they proclaimed.  He had a journal in which he had marked the first day each year that the red-winged blackbird had arrived on the farm, going back to something like 1938.

So, in not too long a time my mother decided to become a birder and soon turned it into a competition, where he even once said (in a rare moment of weakness) that she had ruined the birds for him.  But, still, he kept track of the red-wings and went on many trips with my mother, the locations of which had two criteria - were there "good" birds and was their bourbon.  She was by no means a drunk, but she did like her bourbon at the end of the day.

It wasn't long before I was going on bird walks with her, trying to learn.  She didn't help.  Like everything else, you were just supposed to "know."

I put feeders up wherever I was living and every now and then I'd call to ask her if what I was seeing outside my window was a such and such.  "Don't be foolish," she'd say.  "There's no way at this time of year," or "It's not possible."  Feeling foolish, I'd hang up, go to a bird book and swear that what I was looking at was a such and such.

So, for years my birding was a solitary thing.  I loved it, but was not very good at it.

I was complaining to my shrink once how difficult it was to have a perfectionist as a mother.  My shrink looked at me and told me that I, too, was a perfectionist.  I immediately shot back that there was no way that I, generally a failure at so many things my mother wanted me to succeed at, was a perfectionist. 

My shrink explained that there were two types of perfectionists.  One was my mother - those who did so many things perfectly, seemingly with little effort. 

Then there was the other kind - my kind.  The kind who would not try something if there was a fear of failure, a fear of living up to perfection.  Bingo.

When my mother died, I continued feeding and learning some, but never becoming anything anyone would call an expert.

Several years go, I quite feeding.  Many reasons.  Cats that were both indoor and outdoor cats who would bring in a bird on occasion.  Bears that would come tear down the feeders.  And buying thistle seed for some, sunflowers for others, mixed seed for still others, suet for another group .... plus needing to know which were ground feeders and which were not --- it all got to be too much so I just slowly stopped.

Jessica revived it all for me.  And at such a perfect time.  The worst winter in years.  The birds really need some help this year.

Haven't begun feeding at home yet because there is at least a 5 foot blanket of snow all around my house, but at work it's delightful.

It's very Zen to be in the middle of work crisis and/or deadlines and look up and see a tiny Titmouse, jockeying for position against a female Cardinal (with her gentle dabs of red as opposed to the gaudy male) and a downy woodpecker.

Jessica was not at work today (due to weather) so I sent her an email telling her I had filled her feeder and not to worry (because I don't think anybody's going to work tomorrow once the ice starts falling from the skies). 

She sent me back an email saying "Marianne, thank you for loving the birds as much as I do!"

This post is to say, "No, Jess - thank you for bringing back that part of love and joy to my life."


  1. I love your post. Watching the birds brings me so much joy as well. I try not to focus on the anxiety of their total dependence on me, and just hope to provide seeds as best I can. I remember Ti-mama saying that when you look for birds, you are never alone when you go for a walk. Perhaps she was worried about being alone? Doesn't everyone have a fear?

  2. It's interesting how different your Ti-Mamma was from my mother. She would never have said anything like that in her “mother” role, but in her “Ti-Mamma” role she was somehow more capable of being open. Gwen has told me of some times and conversations she had with Ti-Mamma that seem amazing to me as I can't picture my mother in the story at all. And, yes, you are right. Everyone has a fear (or two or three or four). And if being alone was one for her, I’m only sorry that reaching out for me couldn’t have helped somewhat stem that fear.