Thursday, January 20, 2011

Feeding the birds

We've gotten an awful lot of snow here in Boston over the last few weeks. We have close to 2 feet on the ground and more is coming. I love the aesthetic of snow, the blinding whiteness, the way it glows blue in the evening, the quiet it creates, but I am getting tired of the shoveling, the slipping, the traffic delays. I'm no different than most, enjoying snow when it's convenient and complaining when it's not.

How lucky we are that we have warm homes and safety. Just consider how many don't. I'm carrying food and chemical heat packs to give to the homeless people I meet. It's not enough, but it's something. This weather reminds me that we have an obligation to care for each other when we can.

That extends to my non-human neighbors. Each morning I look outside and see a crowd of birds waiting for me at the feeder. I'm of two minds about feeding them - I so enjoy watching them flock and fight, though I know it disrupts their natural cycles and inclinations. I do it anyway.

As I watch the birds, mostly house sparrows, gather at feeder, I am struck by the tenacity and familiarity of life. As they fight with each other for seeds, some jerk their heads, tossing seed out onto the ground below. Birds flock on the ground to eat what falls. Is this altruism? Is it tossing a morsel to the crowd so the lucky birds with a perch will be left alone? Am I just ascribing human feelings to these lovely little creatures?

When I was a child, a sparrow was caught in the fence lining our backyard. I could see it struggling to free its foot from the boards. I put on a pair of gardening gloves and walked to it. It eyed me with what I imagined then was relief. Now I think it was resigned terror, a predator finally coming to finish it off. As gently as I could, I held it with one hand while I shifted the boards with the other. Its foot was released. I held my cupped hands open and felt its rapid heartbeat as it sat in my palm. After a few moments it flew away, leaving a smear of blood on the boards and my gloves.

I remember its lightness in my hands, the frantic beat against my skin even through the fabric glove. I know this particular bird probably died soon thereafter, weakened from its injured foot, but I imagine its descendants landing on my bird feeder this winter, cocking a cautious eye at me as they eat. If I listen closely, I believe I hear their heartbeats.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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