New Year's Day, 2021
This morning the water in both birdbaths was frozen solid. As I sat with my morning coffee, the doves and the finches and the curve-billed thrashers gently nagged me about the lack of water, complaining to each other and staring at me through the wide front windows.
Each morning I pour water over the ice, giving the birds enough to drink so they can metabolize all the bird food they are consuming, which according to my checkbook is a lot.
Later, the sun would melt the ice, but it was early and my feathered friends were impatient with me. I put my coffee down and went to get something to put water in, since I’ve unhooked the hoses outside, as some nights the temperature will bottom out in the low teens. I don’t want to be responsible for busted pipes in a rented house.
The birds have been my companions for many months now. They bring me joy. I watch the impossibly tiny goldfinches that hang on the soft “sock” finch feeder that hangs in the desert willow out back, and note the quick movements of the sparrows as they root through seed in the little wooden feeder that looks like a house. Stout little juncos hop around on the ground, doing clean-up duty. Always there are doves, cooing and complaining, their bony feet clutching the utility wires overhead. They drop downy white feathers that look like bits of drifting snow on the brown grass.
Once on my daily walk I saw a hawk in a neighbor’s driveway sitting on top of a struggling dove. The hawk gave me side-eye, pecked at the poor dove, and flew off with it into a nearby tree. I couldn’t watch any more of the unfolding drama. “The circle of life,” I said to Beasley as we hurried past.
There was a red-tailed hawk perched on my back fence this past summer. It lifted off from the fence and flew to perch in the tree above my neighbors’ chicken pen, which set the girls to squawking and hollering something fierce. The pen is covered with mesh, so the hawk gave up and flew away. It took a while for the hens to settle down. The rooster waited until the hawk was gone and then gave a loud comment that sounded like, “And stay away!” and I said, “Brother, where you been?”
On my sweet Cooper’s birthday in October, a Cooper’s Hawk stopped by and perched in a cottonwood tree at the back of the property. There was a Ladder-backed Woodpecker that hung around for a couple of days, and an enormous show-offy Flicker that came and sat at the edge of Beasley’s big water bowl after startling away a bunch of robins. Many nights I hear a hoot owl calling from one of the tall elm trees across the street.
With the onset of autumn came crows, dozens and dozens of them. They fly around the neighborhood, chattering to each other about where to find food. I’ve started putting cracked corn out, and yesterday I counted fourteen of them gobbling the grain. I love to watch them. They shove each other, hop menacingly, fuss at each other, elbow each other even though they don’t have elbows, and all still manage to get something to eat. Then they fly off together, croaking and cawing and laughing.
I scatter dried mealworms in the xeriscaping out front for the neighborhood Roadrunner. When I go outside and shake the bag, it comes running, stops at the edge of the driveway, looks at me, cocks its head to one side, then the other, takes a couple steps closer and stops again. The second I am back inside, it will dash over and gobble up those worms and leave wormy excretions on my driveway.
I have hated how small my world has necessarily become this year. I’m certain many of you feel the same way. A year ago I moved to a place referred to as “The Land of Enchantment” and have spent most of it within the walls of this house, with occasional walks and rare visits to grocery stores and the blessing of trips to the other side of the Sandias to spend time with "Covid Pod" friends-become-family. I miss the discovery that comes with travel. I suffer severe bouts of wanderlust. There is so much to see in this amazing part of the country, and I haven’t seen it.
I am living in the moment as never before, because in all of 2020’s uncertainty about what is to come, what other moment has there been? And the birds, the lovely, ravenous birds must be tended to by someone. Why not me? They have sustained me — the finches’ sweet little chirping songs and the slow canting of the doves and the bubbling song of the thrasher and the mournful owl in the dead of night, out in the dark expressing exactly what I feel.
"Who? Who? Who?"
Even as I lay in bed, my body fighting the invading coronavirus, just on the other side of my bedroom windows the birds kept me company, and their music brought vague, distant memories of past joys, healthier times, and from those memories formed a hoped-for restoration to strength and well-being, all thanks to these fierce little feathered miracle-workers.
This afternoon two purple finches and a goldfinch hung on the sock feeder and worked so diligently that by tomorrow I will probably have to add more thistle seed. I've topped off the tray feeder in the pine tree out front. It's a favorite of the thrashers and the sparrows.
Just now, I noticed the sky on fire with one of those famous New Mexico sunsets, and out front along the concrete wall where I feed the crows is a small stone that wasn’t there yesterday, and I think it may be a gift that crows are so well-known for leaving.
And that is how I will think of 2020 before releasing it entirely - as the year of unexpected gifts. I will likely be unpacking that notion in 2021. Nonetheless, full speed ahead through that bright open doorway of a new year! I wish all of you happiness and health, and may joy abound with you and yours!