the warnings come with breathless urgency. we brace ourselves, tell bones and muscles to stay strong, bear the cold. then we zipper up and face it.
standing on the train platform, winds hurling past the naked patch of flesh that is our nose, our cheeks, our lips, our bare sliver of forehead, we think siberia’s got nothin’ on the north side of chicago, in the dark and bitter exodus from work to igloo.
and that’s before the real cold comes. we’re racing home to beat it. to hunker down, stuff rags where winds creep in, turn on faucets to the steady drip that tells us pipes aren’t frozen–yet.
the weatherman, making like he’s our wise and worried uncle, is talking upper-case-and-exclamation-mark negatives, double digits below zero.
take to the blankets, the call goes out. don’t leave home if you don’t need to.
the children pray for day off from school; they go to bed, hoping for the coldest cold.
grownups only hope they don’t awake to the sound of gushing water, from a pipe that’s gone kerpluey.
last night, doing as i was told by uncle weatherman, i wrapped myself like a taco in my fuzzy blanket, the one that comes out for emergencies. like when it’s 20-something below zero. and words like SIBERIAN get splattered on the weather map.
i was dozing deeply–and, oddly, dreaming of picante sauce–when the cat meowed, as he always does, at 3 a.m. (clearly, he’d dozed right through the weather alerts on the nightly news.)
dutifully, i flung back the blanket and followed the ol’ cat’s pit-a-pat, straight to the kitchen door, where he made his exit wish in no uncertain terms: i let him out, under the silver moon, for his prowl around the ‘hood. but knowing, as he did not, that his little paws might screech in pain, i waited at the door. and waited. while he took in the frozen tundra.
when at last he trotted back, a full 20 minutes later (darn cat!), we shuffled back to taco blankets, cold cat and i.
i couldn’t bear to stay in bed much longer, though. i knew the trees outside were filled with all my half-frozen friends, the hardy feathered ones who must wake up on days like this and wonder why their forebears were not the tropical variety, the ones who would have had them harbored in banana groves and rain forests, straight through the so-called winter.
alas, the poor things are northern birds, and with that comes a tender tie to those of us who make it our business to shuffle out the door with banged-up coffee cans and old ricotta cheese tubs, serving platters for the seed and suet clumps that we pour into the troughs.
even though the dawn was still—not a leaf fluttering, not a bluejay’s squawk or sparrow’s chirp–even though my fingers nearly stuck to the water jug as i poured it in the bowl where my birds bathe and drink, both at once, i crunched across the crusted snow, i dumped my vittles, and before i’d reached the door handle once again, there was a red-headed beauty pecking away at the seed.
survival seed, i call it.
it’s imbued with animation, the sparks of magic, surely. not a minute after it’s been dumped the yard’s aswirl with sound and stirrings.
on days like today, it’s the least we can do, to stoke the hearts and bellies of the birds who give flight to our days, who fill the boughs and branches with their scarlet feathers.
truth be told, i’d like to fling wide my doors, and invite the chilly flocks inside. come to my table, feathered friends, have a plate of seed. survival seed, indeed.
for each and every one of us.
oh lord, i must dash to RECESS duty, be still my frozen heart. tell your weather tales here. be back, once i thaw….