Sylvan stirrings in the still and chill of winter
Revising Days of Awe

For the birds


Woodpecker, snacking.


I love our bird feeder. Okay, in fairness, it's not the feeder itself that I love -- that's just a tube of plexiglass with some little bird rests attached. It's the birds who come to the feeder. The juncos and chickadees and sparrows and occasional woodpecker who spend the winter visiting our deck and supping at the repast of mixed birdseed that we provide. I love to watch them from inside.

Often I marvel. They are so tiny, especially the black-capped chickadees. January temperatures here can be arctic. How can something so small sustain itself when the air around it is so cold? It seems as though they ought to just freeze and drop like stones. How can their tiny hearts keep beating? How can their feathers insulate them enough to withstand this level of bitter cold?

But this is their native habitat. (And though I've been here for more than twenty years, it isn't mine; perhaps that's why I still boggle at the profusion of wildlife which flourishes not despite the winter but because this is the climate for which these creatures and plants evolved.) These birds are apparently perfectly content to winter over, and I'm grateful for that, because they cheer me.

When our son and I step outside first thing in the morning to go to preschool, we are often greeted with the sound of a woodpecker, hidden somewhere on the forested hill which abuts the house. "Shhh!" our son will say to me, and we both stand stock-still and wait, and just when it seems as though the sound isn't going to come again, we hear it: rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. And we both beam.

I feel an obligation to the birds. I don't bother to feed them in the summertime; at that time of year, the world is filled with living things for their delectation. But in winter, I feel as though they depend on me. I like being here for them. And when I see them swooping through the air to land on the feeder, and then swooping away to the trees beyond our hillside, my heart swells with gratitude.

What the birds do naturally -- fly, most of all; sing their particular songs, making sounds I can only attempt to imitate; thrive to preen and roost even in the snow, even though they're tiny -- is inconceivable to me. And every time I'm reminded of how amazing the birds are, I remember again that there's more to the world, even the simple world on this hill, than I can understand.