I worked for years to convince grape vines to grow up my arbor. I imagined an arbor crisscrossed with verdant vines, heavy clusters of green and red grapes hanging down, and me sitting in a chair underneath, in grape-shade, pleasantly paralyzed by grape and wild flower and spice garden perfume. But the vines never grew more than a few feet high before turning brown and dying. Too much water? Not enough iron or acid to compensate for the alkaline soil? It no longer matters. The grape arbor became my bird arbor, hosting many pretty species year-round.
Bird feeders swing empty from nails pounded in the arbor.
After years of compost, fertilizer, water, and iron,
the vines still grow sickly and yellow, vines that grow no grapes.
I once dreamed of the arbor covered in a dense green,
with plump, hanging clusters of white and purple grapes.
Bird houses nailed to the arbor sit vacant,
the entrance holes too large or two small, too high or too low,
or too exposed to climbing cats,
vacant but for teaming yellow jackets that relish dark nooks.
The finches prefer the spiny blue spruce nearby.
Who knows where the sparrows and blackbirds live?
But they visit by the hundred, chirping and chasing, cracking at shells.
I must fill the swinging feeders
for the little birds that descend to my empty arbor.
Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.
My son Caleb loves to wood carve. And paint. And draw. Creations of all kinds. Caleb carved these charming bird-beak back scratchers out of tough Russian Olive wood collected near Rabbit Lane. He has created an Etsy account where you can see each of these awesome artistic bird-beak-scratchers highlighted individually. Pay a visit; take a look. Way to go Caleb!
(Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.)
Working at my home office today while convalescing after foot surgery, a little flock of finches and sparrows landed in the crabapple tree outside my window and began to eat the tiny pea-sized fruits. A living poem, I thought. Having promised myself never to deny, or even to delay, inspiration, I wrote the poem that came: Through Winter’s Window. I hope you find it a spot of warmth on this freezing Winter day.
THROUGH WINTER’S WINDOW
fidgety finches, purple bibbed,
nibble nervously on
purple crabapple fruits,
not whole berries,
but tiny snatches and pecks,
wiping beaks on branches
when the sticky pulp sticks
watching from within walls, me,
through gridded, two-paned glass,
through slanted shutters
and dark nylon micro screen;
still I see the fidgety finches,
joined, now, by sparrows
brown on brown
round, scarlet leaves of fall
have fallen; only the marble
fruits hang on
though winds gust, throwing snow,
and winter sun appears
a weak old bulb
on the world’s periphery
but the red-throated finches
and striped sparrows land in
a happy-dozen flock to nibble and talk,
to swipe and nibble and talk,
seeing not nor caring
that I watch
unhearing from inside
Riding my bicycle home from work the other day I noticed an American Robin standing proud and tall in the midst of deluging lawn sprinklers. He knew where to be to pluck juicy earthworms from the saturated turf. And he knew how to keep cool in the 100-degree heat. What caught my attention most was his bearing of obvious satisfaction, his beak lifted slightly, contemplating his idyllic surroundings. I couldn’t help putting pen to paper.
beak above the plane
in thick lawn sprinkler
he is in the right place at the right time
The Western Kingbird is one of my favorite birds. It is unremarkable in size, color, song, or other characteristics enjoyed by more glamorous birds. Its only coloration is a slight yellow-green on the breast. But I love to watch the Kingbird’s frenetically acrobatic flight as it catches insects on the wing. And I love listening to them from where they sit perched on the top of fence posts and power poles, singing an indecipherable electronica, devoid of tune but fascinating nonetheless. Every morning when I leave for work, and every evening upon my returning home, a little Kingbird calls to me with a friendly whistle. Today he let me take this picture as he perched on my wall with a grasshopper in his beak. Enthralled with my new friend, to whose whistles I always offer my own greeting of “Hello little Kingbird,” I wrote this poem.
You are always
there, in that same spot,
on the top
of the fence post,
at me, so I will
look to you,
find you, again
in that place,
and hold my gaze, then
twitch and twitter,
A quick hop,
an airborne bug,
quick little Kingbird.
And you wing away
with a twitter
and a whistle
Photo by Liddy Mills
My friend Elizabeth found an injured bird yesterday, a European Starling, and took it in. Many people think of Starlings as junk birds. I know of farmers who pay boys to kill as many as they can. But Elizabeth took it in. She fed it, watered it, and wrapped it in cloth. Elizabeth named it Songbird. She sang to Songbird, and, as she sang, Songbird fluffed its feathers and watched her. She placed Songbird on a bed of straw, but the bird kept trying to come to her as she sang. “I held him as he took his last breath,” Elizabeth sadly recounted. “I hope he understood that some of us humans care.” She buried Songbird in the yard today, on the Sabbath. “Songbird deserved a burial,” she said. Elizabeth’s caring heart touched mine, and I wrote this poem, near midnight.
and lay crumpled
in your townhouse yard.
You scooped me up
and sang to me
You cradled me in a cloth
and stroked my feathered head.
Sing to me
You watered me
and laid me in a bed of straw.
Sing to me
You kept the cats
Sing to me
You cried when I died,
and you buried me
in your townhouse yard.
You sang to me
For another story about trying to save an injured bird, see Chapter 37: Of Caterpillars and Birds at my blog page Rabbit Lane: Memoir.
I love wild birds. Each visual and aural encounter with a bird inspires me, lifts my spirit somehow, and causes me to stop what I’m doing and to watch and listen. “Do you hear that?” I’ll ask my children as we walk on Rabbit Lane. “That’s the cry of the Red-shafted Northern Flicker. Now every time you hear that lonesome call, you’ll know who it is, and can watch. See? There he goes?” The Meadowlark sings the most beautiful and complex melody. Common Sparrows twitter chaotically, wooing mates in the tree branches. Red-winged Blackbirds whistle and dive in for a sunflower snack. Mourning Doves coo softly and sadly. I hope you enjoy this prose poem about some wild birds in the Rabbit Lane neighborhood.
Small striped Siskin grasps a high twig with black-wire feet, glancing repeatedly downward, wishing someone would fill the hanging thistle seed bag.
Two Red Tails sit close on a high bare branch watching the fields together for a mouse or a vole or a gopher that might poke its snout up through the snow. Which one will fly?
A thousand yellow-shafted Northern Flickers crowd a copse of gambel oaks and mountain maples, each of the thousand chatting earnestly to the other nine-hundred ninety-nine. The red-shafted flies alone, flapping then gliding close-winged, after sounding a solitary cry.
Kestrel finds its way into the coop, with no room to dive and where the chickens are ten times its size, and cannot see the way out. Brian grapples it with leather gloves and sets it free to fly, not before noticing the beautiful markings on its face, the scalpel beak, and the black glossy gleam in its eyes.
Bald Eagle came only once to our cottonwoods and stared down at me as I stood stupefied.