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Category: birds

red alert

i didn’t notice the first day. and not really the second day. but, by the third day, the third bitter cold day in a row, the third day when the unfurling of scarlet as it darted from pine bough to naked magnolia was decidedly absent, i started to worry.

now, worrying, in case you don’t know, is something i do exceedingly well. comes naturally. like breathing, only in staccato. only in spending the morning with an eye out the window, watching, combing the sky and the branches. on fullest alert.

as i watched without reason to hope, as i thought of the bitterest cold, i remembered the words of my mama telling me how so many birds from her flock had been lost, in the deep snap of cold.

“couldn’t survive,” she declared in that way that she does, unspooling for all of her nestlings all the mysteries of nature, of life and of death. she seems to know things that come from a long life of breathing in sync with the birds and the woods and the clouds.

and so, as the image of a little red bird, fallen somewhere, on the unforgiving crust of the snow, made the hairs on my neck rise, i thought of climbing in boots, commencing a search. imagined the crunch through the snow, pulling back branches, poking through all of the grasses, now frozen and matted and frankly quite knotted, that i’d left in the yard for the winter, for the birds who might savor their seed, or their harbor, on a day not too cold to put wind to their wings.

then i thought of the hawk. the great cooper’s hawk, the one with the tail so big and so thick i once mistook it for an owl–and that was merely the tail. add the head and the wings and the muscle-bound chest under all of those feathers and you’ve got a bird you should fear.

and fear it they do, all my fine feathered friends. one mere swoop of the hawk through the sky, clears all of the branches of birds. they scatter, i swear, when that hawk is a mile away. they know, before i see a thing, that death in the clutches of indiscriminate beak, or in talons the size of a three-penny nail, is a death to avoid.

and then, always, there is the cat. the cat that i feed twice a day. the cat who curls up on my lap, and purrs like a chevy with ’58 fins. that cat, i pretend, knows better than to touch a red bird. if that cat crosses that line, comes home with a dried bit of feathery red there where he does all his licking, that cat will be dispatched to the dungeon. and i like to think–though i’m sure i’m kidding myself–that he’s too tender-hearted to torment me so cruelly, to partake of papa the cardinal.

while all these horrible endings swirled in my head, i ached for the red bird–papa, i call him–who, whenever he darts through my day, brings me a deep knowing that i’ve been touched by a something divine.

i can be pouring a tall dose of coffee, there by my little side window, and, poof, there’s papa, his bright scarlet frock nestled right there in the bushes just inches away.

or, as i haul out the trash, or dash to an errand that should have been started nearly an hour before, there’s papa. cheer-cheering from top of the oak. or playing peek-a-boo in the pines.

wherever he comes, whenever he flashes his colors, my soul breathes a sigh that makes me feel wholly at home. he brings the divine down to the earthliest minute.

now, i know that a bird is not mine. these birds all around me belong to the heavens. and the trees they inhabit, just happen to be near to me and my four-walled nest.

but, over time, a particular possessiveness creeps in the equation. they are mine, i am theirs. together we do a fine dance. a dance i’m not willing to end.

and so, in the hours when i’d noticed his absence, when i raked all the limbs, when i scoured the ground, i felt the depth of that dance in my heart, realized the intricate wiring between me and my red-banner bird.

it is, perhaps, the shock of the color itself, heart-stopping, really, against the bleak gray of the winter undressed, or the white of the winter, fully attired.

it is that sign from above that amid the humdrum, the everyday, there comes, without warning, without siren, the scarlet cloak that whispers, “your day was just touched.”

it is hope when i need it, a charge when i’ll take it. it is, some lonely hours, as if the Holiest One is tapping there at my window, the answer to an unwhispered prayer.

and so it was, when, after three days that felt like three weeks, that flash once again caught me unawares. i was minding my business–i’d forgotten if only for a bit of a while that i needed to worry–when, suddenly, there at the feeder perched papa.

i moved close to the window, as close as i could without startling my too-long-gone friend. close enough to see his little heart pounding, there under the reddest of breasts. my heart pounded as well.

for a minute there, the other day, me and a bird from somewhere on high, we beat the same song with the whole of our hearts. papa was home, was safe, wasn’t buried, stiff in the snow.

his absence now over, i’ve not yet let go of the sense that i–and he–was saved from a terrible sorrow.

sometimes it takes a bit of a scare to remember how blessed we are.

sometimes we don’t feel the depth of a plug in our heart, until it is pulled. until there’s a hole and it’s gaping.

only then, sadly, do we realize that without that something we love, that something we count on, our breathing is not wholly ours. it depends on grace all around us. it depends on the touch under the sheets in the night, on the peck on the cheek in the doorway, or the flash of a wing in the branches.

the red bird out my window taught me that lesson this week. gentle bird, messenger bird. bird in heavenly red. bird that beckons attention.

have you seen a sign lately? a celestial sign? some sign from above that reminds you the earthliest truth? have you come to know, only too late, how deeply you miss some grace note you’d taken for granted? any one else feel a particular kinship to the reddest bird in these parts (save for the tanager who seems too scarce for everyday musings)?

fire-hydrant funeral

fire-hydrant funeral

they came on foot and on wings. one hobbled on a three-pronged cane. one pedaled her pink-and-white old-timer bicycle. a whole flock finally came down from the soupy gray sky.

they all were drawn to the fire hydrant, now empty, now nothing but a bulging spout where firetrucks would hook up their hoses should a fire ever come to the dingy gray block of western avenue, across the way from lincoln’s statue, on chicago’s north side.

but for nearly 10 years that hydrant more or less belonged to joe zeman, the stooped old man best-known as the pigeon man of lincoln square.

nearly three weeks ago, joe died. was killed when a van pulled out of a bank parking lot, and the elderly driver didn’t see the man who so often–when not covered in pigeons–faded into the shadows.

the hydrant belonged, too, to the pigeons, joe’s pigeons, the dozens and dozens who fluttered down, found peace on the sturdy limbs of the man who made like st. francis of a city.

the pigeons roost–then and now–up on the terra-cotta brow of an old boarded-up bank, or down by the corner where the street lights blink all night and day. but they don’t circle down to the hydrant anymore.

some say the pigeons are crying. some say that in the days right after joe died, the pigeons circled, cooed in a way that sounded like wailing, then dropped their heads, flew away. kept watch, but wouldn’t come down to the hydrant.

the sadness that swelled their hearts–people and pigeons, alike–could no longer be contained. nor the yearning for a proper goodbye.

so, on a balmy january sunday, just yesterday, friends and strangers–even the pigeons–came back to the hydrant.

there was no clergy at this fire-hydrant funeral of sorts. and no coffin; joe had been cremated at his family’s request, and they promise to hold a memorial in a few months. communion came in the form of squishy white bread, on sale at the aldi, passed out in single slices to the dozens who wandered by for the better part of an hour.

a city bus pulled to the curb, so the driver–who told me he whispers a prayer every time he rolls by the now-empty hydrant–could pay his respects. another one honked, from across three lanes of traffic.

even a city cop, in her squad car, pulled up to add her blessing. she was the beat cop who’s worked the precinct for the last seven years, and she used to stop by each day to visit with joe. not once, she said, did she respond to one of the callers, the complainers, who wanted joe hassled for feeding the pigeons.

before she drove off, she told me joe died with a copy of a newspaper story clutched in his hand, not tucked in his jewel bag as i’d first imagined when told by the cops he’d died with my story right there.

this whole sidewalk benediction for joe, for joe and all that he stood for, was the idea of tara theobald, a woman who sports a faux-hawk–that is a semi-mohawk, close-cropped on the sides, curly and longer in a stripe on the top–a woman who never once met or even saw zeman, but read of him, and mourned for the hole now in the weave of the city.

“he was an icon,” she told me. “he was someone taking care of the community, the animals, the corner. he showed the neighborhood what it means to care.”

hers was a simple idea. on facebook, no less, she put up a post, asking hundreds of folk to come pay their respects.

“bring bread and/or grain, and any kind words,” she wrote, “to commemorate zeman’s philosophy of charity and consideration he long evoked in the lincoln square neighborhood.”

and so, under a gray sky that seemed to be dripping fine mist, a small knot gathered. the pigeons, nearly a hundred, and the people, no more than seven or eight.

in all, there were nine loaves of bread, a bag of cracked corn, and 200 black-and-white cards that theobald had designed, printed and photocopied. each one showed a photo of joe, covered in pigeons, with the word compassion, defined: “deep awareness of others’ suffering, accompanied by the desire to alleviate it.”

beneath those words, she wrote simply: “joe zeman. 1930-2007. be the change.”

she had no solid plans for the simple sidewalk remembrance. just a loose notion to pass out a single slice of the bread, and a compassion card, to each passerby. hoping to stir up the spirit of joe, there at his hydrant.

for nearly an hour, a stream of folks flowed by. out on a warm gray sunday for a stroll, running an errand, chasing a bus, some stopped, some paused, others kept right on walking.

the sidewalk was slick from the mist. the curb was clogged with charcoal gray slush, the last bits of snow, melting.

crumbs of bread and the scattering of corn soon soaked up the spill from the mist and the snow. the pigeons returned, gobbled up bits, then roosted again.

stories were told. a refugee worker remembered how she passed by joe every morning, how his soft gentle ways infused her, reminded her how she ought to be. a young mother out walking her four-year-old stopped to say how many conversations joe and his birds had inspired. how she used him to teach her little ones how to be in the world they were just learning.

one old lady cried. a grad student, one whose teacher had penned a beautiful poem, a poem entitled, “endangered species,” a poem about joe, cleared her throat, turned toward the pigeons and began to read.

the last line of the poem is the one i can’t forget: “who is to say you cannot collect love?”

it was the city at its slushiest, grittiest, there where the pigeons do and mind all their business.

and it was there that a woman who teaches synagogue sunday school dreamed up this holy sidewalk communion, for the birds and the un-winged friends, all so very much missing an old hunched-over man who tried to teach only this:

“i’m really advertising to the public how easy it is to be good without an attitude,” he once told me. “it’s just as easy to show decency as it is to hate today.”

don’t forget joe. be the change.

blessed monday, blessed back-to-the-real-world monday. i needed to take you all to the sidewalk to see what i saw, to hear what i heard. i have a similar story in the tribune today, but i couldn’t say there all that i can say here at the table. so this one’s for you.

long as we’re here, i just wanted to say happy blessed day to mbw, another urban saint among us. she’s my kind of hero, used to leave her car unlocked every night so some homeless folk could find shelter and a soft place to sleep. she was my first best boss at children’s. i picked her to be my firstborn’s godmother, cuz hers is a soul and a wisdom any child would be so blessed to absorb.

at our house it was a rocky beginning to the week. hope yours was smoother. and here’s a prayer that all of us find what it takes to return to the real world, but still hold onto the magic of unwrapping mornings, and twinkling nights. the test is now, to find peace in the long list of to-do’s. hope the story of joe, and the hydrant, brings you a bit of what you might need this january monday.

day job: washing windows

it’s an occupational hazard, or at least this week it was. i’ve been spritzing, rubbing, wiping streaks from windows all around.

my glass, egad, so streakless, poor pigeon crashed beak-first into what it thought was sky. (fear not, i went in search of him, poor feather-fallen thing, but he was nowhere to be found, which means i can assume that his neck remained intact; by the way, i promptly scotch-taped cutout bird to prevent another crash. did you know that window crashes kill a billion birds a year? someone counted.)

but back to window wiping.

all this wild-eyed doing away with smudge and splot, the goo that’s left from winter, it has nothing to do with me going nuts with newfound vernal light. and it’s not, i promise, from inhaling ammonia fumes.

no no, you see, in the latest wrinkle of my investigative life, i am testing cleaners. green cleaners to be precise. trying to determine if saving the sweet earth might mean giving up some sheen.

it is, i suppose, spring cleaning under duress.

were it not for story deadline, would i be spritzing up a storm?

truly, probably not. but fact of the matter is i do appreciate the leap on clean that it inspired.

oh no, here we go again. me and my fixation on making messes clean. no no, i do protest, it’s not the messes i detest (though they do get under my skin, make me kind of antsy, remind me i’m a slob at heart, just one pile away from giving in to inner pigpen), it’s the dirt.

ah yes, it’s doing away with dirt that gets my juices bubbling.

i was i love lucy, all except the rag tied ‘round my head, madly sudsing up this house.

the more you ditch the dirt, i find, the more determined you become. what starts out as surface cleaning quickly takes a dive. you find yourself quite suddenly excavating grime. there you are in cracks and shadows mining shmutz of origin unknown.

i was reading of the jewish ritual of cleaning house for passover, the bread-free springtime festival that hovers around easter, and i kid you not the sisterhood recommended toothpicks and q-tips for getting into crevices. that is armament the likes of which this catholic girl has rarely seen.

and then, as if the toothpicks aren’t enough, the night before the eve of passover, the whole family ventures through the house, in search of furtive crumb that might be clinging to a crack. this time armed with feather, spoon and candle, papa leads the way. any crumb that’s confiscated will be burned in ritual offering the next morning. all this spelled out in the holy book.

and that wouldn’t be a guide to springtime cleaning.

though it could be.

what is it, i wonder, that has us as a species so finely wired that when the clock ticks march, we are stirred to shake the rugs? to grab the feather duster? all right, at least to dial up the kleen brigade, and make a date for superkleen with extra wax?

maybe it’s got something to do with all the pure new light, the angle that it slants, how it catches on the dust fields in ways it never did in winter.

or maybe there’s some chemical that surges when the daylight savings time clicks in, and suddenly all over, we feel the need to shake the feathers from our nest.

speaking of feathers, it seems i was not the only one under this shingled roof who got into the nesting groove this week.

seems that mama sparrow has been sizing up my house, looking high and low for a place to call her own. spied herself a little cove, she did, right above the woodwork that surrounds the new front door. the very one, of course, where i’ve been madly cleaning glass.

my mama saw her darting in and out. i saw her picking sticks, like she was bargain hunting in the basement of filene’s, i tell you, sifting through the racks of sticks, deciding just which one. plucking this stick, wiggling it around, dropping stick back to the ground. maybe she didn’t like the way it looked against her feathers.

my mama, ever full of common sense and what lurks around the corner, pointed out that if mrs. sparrow and her brood spend their hatching days right above my door, well, i’ll be wiping lots of springtime goo from panes of glass.

this springtime cleaning thing might take me through to summer.

anyone else out there doing the feather-duster dance?

hunker down

when the little man who lives in the radio next to your bed rouses you from your slumber with the rooster-squawking news that your world, it is abysmally freezing, that there’s nothing between zero and you but a scant shallow degree or two,well then there’s nothing to do but hunker down.

since pulling up the covers and six months’ hibernation is not an option for the homo sapien species, you do the right-thinking thing: you grab all the clothes from your closet, you pile them on, then you waddle down the stairs, the abominable mother.

deep inside you this mad cave-woman thing is stirring you on: you want to grab all your loved ones, even the birds and the squirrels and that ol’ fat raccoon, and you want to haul everyone and everything to the back of the cave where you, in a cave era gender leap, will rub some sticks, start a fire and keep flesh, feather and fur all warm and all toasty.

but, alas, there’s no cave and you’re not good with sticks, so instead you start fueling your flock for the day.

in the deep arctic cold, you step into the purplish light of pre-dawn, armed with your coffee can brimming with seed. you pour seed for the cardinals, seed for the sparrows. you fill water for everyone, scatter bread, scatter popcorn for squirrels.

back in the house, you repeat the routine for the little ones sleeping up over your head. it’s oatmeal for the sapiens, oatmeal studded with every imaginable fruit on the shelf. you are filling their tanks for long walks to the train, to the bus, to the playground. calorie-packing, the arctic climbers call it, and you call it the same, as you pour almonds and wheat germ and fat juicy apricots into the porridge. if you invest oatmeal with amulet powers on a 30-degree day, you should see what you do when the digits come only one at a time.

the whole day will unfold with similar bone-chilling caution. all errands are nixed, unless earth-shatteringly essential. no child of yours shall be dawdling at bus stops. each being who steps out of your house will be so wrapped in cloth, it’ll be nearly impossible to move even a muscle. but you’ll insist.

and then you’ll get on with the business of stoking their furnaces. you’ll rub your numb fingers, yank supplies off the shelves. it’s visions of soup, bread and cookies, all steamy and yummy, all straight from the oven, that swirl in your head.

so pull up your long johns, fasten your ear muffs. we’ve a cold day ahead, arctic winds to contend with. remember the birds. crank your crotchety ovens. it’s hot cookies for all, and for all a good day.

h + 2 ohhhhs

that would be water, people. the subject is water. water, specifically, for the birds.

oh no, they moan. she’s at it again. the bird lady is flapping her wings. she’s squawking, she is. she’s going round and round like a broken bird record.

now, now, good people. calm down in your nests. this won’t be a lecture. more like a soft little nudge of the gentlest elbow. it’s just that the news is so stunningly good. and so stunningly simple.

for years i have heard my bird-loving mama cajole and remind, put out the water. well, you know how things go when your mother reminds. you forget. you get busy. you don’t do what she says.

but my bird buddy, that tim joyce fellow i told you about. the one i am talking to for my birdscaping story.

well, he said, ‘put out the water.’ and somehow i listened. actually, barbara the wiser (aka my mother) gets due credit here.

see, at the fancy bird shop they sell all sorts of gizmos for giving your birds plain old tap water. and the pricetags for these thingies? they start at $49.99 and go skyward from there.

well, ol’ barbara the wiser she never met a gizmo she thought that she needed. so she rummaged around, down in the basement, in the garage, and she came up with a banged-up plastic plant saucer that would do just the trick.

years back i had put down the cash for one of those water heater-upper coils; the problem was, since we moved here four years ago i wasn’t sure if i’d seen the darn coiled thing.

presto, it was, believe it or not, in the logical place, right there in the garage, nestled with other bird things, next to the garden things.

so, my mama, she plugged it in. just plain old tap water, the coil, the saucer.

and what to our wondering eyes did appear?

listen up, people, this is the good part: birds by the dozens, birds by the flock.

it is as if some magic elixir was out there in the saucer. some bird cocktail that’s got them all chirping. yo, they are warbling, one to the other, there’s water on maple. take a dive, take a drink. or some bird flutter like that.

so the moral of this little tale is no more than this: if you want the birds, put out the water.

more essential than seed. cheaper, by far. all you need is a tap and a spigot, a saucer, and a means to keep it from turning into a big block of ice.

certainly, you could pop for one of those coily gizmos. i haven’t seen one for less than $49.99. or, try one of these, nearly for free:

barbara the wiser heats up a kettle of boiling water and pours it atop the ice that’s formed overnight.

the fine folk at the cornell lab of ornithology, about the smartest bird folk in the land, suggest putting an ordinary lightbulb into a flower pot, and then setting the saucer of water on top of the pot. the bulb, plugged in and turned on, mind you, will put off enough heat to keep your bird bar ice-free and fluid.

a few other watery bird things you might want to know: the no. 1 reason a bird needs its water, is not simply for drinking but rather for bathing. yes, it’s true. a bird stays warm under its feathers. but for optimum fluffing, the feathers need to be clean. a bird with clean feathers is a bird who is cozy and warm. a bird in need of a bath is a bird who can’t fluff his feathers.

finally, you might love this little bit, a bird as it breathes exhales moisture with each little breath. i don’t yet know how many breaths a bird has per minute. but i’m hot on the trail of that little bird fact. for now, just know, that your bird it needs water. you do not want dehydrated birds tipping and flopping all over your world.

more to come. for now, class dismissed….

christmas tree leftovers

near where i live, they are lining the streets. dumped by the curb. unceremoniously hauled out and left to shiver in the finally-arriving cold.

they are the fallen soldiers of christmas. they are the once-proud trees, stripped, humbled, strewn.

all their trappings, packed and stashed back in the attic, the basement, the closet that holds way too much.

not so many weeks ago, it seemed every car, suv, minivan had one strapped to the roof like some botanical five-point buck, grown, felled, strung up by the limbs, just so we could carry home christmas.

for awhile there we flirted with the poor thing. made all nicey-nice. left cookies down by the stump one star-studded night. draped it with shimmery stuff. turned on the lights. might even have remembered to give it a drink.

then it got old. we loosened our affections. the calendar changed. we declared: time to dump.

and so, all around me, and maybe around you, they’ve been dumping. like a forest of the unloved, they are askew at the curbs all over the place.

not at my house.

we are proudly, defiantly, giving them life ever after. they stand, the big one listing west, the little one leaning to the east, out in the back where we keep an eye on their doings. they are there for the birds, for the critters who crawl deep inside them.

now the interesting thing about leftover trees is that you don’t have to have had a tree in the first place to go out and, er, simply adopt one. if you’re supremely polite you might knock on a door, ask, hey do you mind if i borrow your tree? the look might be quizzical, but i doubt they’ll say no.

come on, who’s going to turn down a kook who wants to haul home a dry tree?

take a stand. or a coffee can of sand. (remember when the coffee you drank came in cans? yes, it still does.) or just lean it jauntily against something else.

if you want to go for the st. francis of assisi supergold medal, you might refer to that long-ago meandering (“for the birds,” 12.22.06), and make yourself and your birds some peanut-butter-and-birdseed hearts. or dangle some suet muffins. or string cranberries and popcorn.

then watch the birds have at it. watch the tree come back to life. if you listen, you might even hear it humming. some ol’ resurrection tune, perhaps.

there are worse ways to savor your leftovers.

and at my house, they’re welcome to stay ’til the last little needle drops to the ground. then i’ll grind it up and make mulch of it. which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound very nice.

vote here if you think this is all for the birds.

bring on the birds

it seems fitting, doesn’t it, to begin the new year with an ear to the symphony outside. the sounds we don’t notice. the birdsong we are missing, dashing in and out from the house to the car to the errands that never ever seem to stop.

i was just out listening. and i’m telling you, it was an awakening. bach and beethoven, they tried. but they never got close. never got close to the sound and the song that the little birds make.

i had a fellow over, a wonderful fellow, the sort you want to sip coffee and listen to all the day long. his name is tim joyce, and he is a bird man. he came for a story i’m working on, a story about birdscaping, which is, believe it or not, the fine art of figuring which birds you might attract, and then laying out a plot for doing just that. it’s the bird version of landscaping. only it’s all about bringing on the birds.

so for a good hour or more, in the finger-numbing chill of this january morn, we stood and we watched and we listened. there were, in no particular order, house finches, house sparrows, black-cap chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, and red-breasted ones, too. there was a red-bellied woodpecker, a downy woodpecker, an american crow, and darn it, european starlings. of course, there were cardinals, my signature bird. and last but not least there were juncoes and goldfinch.

what all of that means is that nestled in the branches of my pines and my old scrubby brush, i have whole civilizations with stories to tell and flutterings to delight.

this tim fellow, bearded and spectacled, unspooled tales of how the starling, a seed swisher and most social bird i now know, was an invader from europe, how they’d come generations ago, brought over by settlers who, so the story goes, thought a starling in the background would make a new york city performance of shakespeare’s “king lear” seem so much more authentic. who knew?

he told how a hummingbird, flying from the yucatan peninsula to a quiet little corner of, perhaps, southern ontario, would dart into my little yard if i put out a hummingbird feeder, dally for a day or two, and then in the fall, flying back south, would remember my spot on the map and make a certain return. imagine that, my very own hummingbird friend.

but, he cautioned, should i ever forget to put out fresh hummingbird nectar (aka sugar water) and that sojourner took a gulp of bird drink gone bad, i would be blackballed forever by that sweet little flapper. egad.

all in all, it enchanted. and it turned on lightbulbs galore. here, in my little corner of the world, close enough to the big city that i’m there in a blink, i could be brushed day in and day out by the spectacle of God’s winged creation. what it takes, most of all, is carving out time, carving out quiet, to sit and to marvel at all that’s around me.

what if every morning i started my day not with a leap to the treadmill but instead crept outside, bowed to the rising sun and listened for the bach and the beethoven already nestled in my limbs?

i’m curious. how do you bring the natural world into your every day? is it the stars, or the moon? the rising or setting sun? and what about the birds, do you ever stand at your window and marvel, or better yet, step outside and drink in their song?

for the birds…

it is the day of the longest night, and so it seems fitting, it does, that this be the day we remember the birds and the little beasts that dart and that frolic out in the not-so-wild of our leafy backyards.

for years now, feeding the birds for christmas has been one of the quaintest moments on my calendar. alone in my kitchen, or with little hands weighing in from the wings, i plop out the peanut butter, smear on the cones, roll in the seed, tie with a string. sometimes i swear that patron saint of wild things, st. francis, that is, is there too, peeking over my shoulder, leading me on in this sacred creation. feeding the little winged things. making a tree for the birds just out my window.

i have searched high and low, looking and asking, isn’t there a particular one day of the year, somewhere in the world, set aside for this cutting out bread hearts, rolling peanut-butter pine cones, all in the name of returning the birds’ favor? so far, i’ve not found a day, so i am declaring it this one, the day of the long winter’s night. the day of the solstice.

so if you or your little ones might be so inspired, what you need, simply, is this: a stash of pine cones, slices of bread, a jar of good peanut butter, a tinplate of seeds. should you care to make a haute tree, ask your friend the butcher for a paper-wrapped packet of suet, a.k.a. the fat sliced off a good chunk of cow. if you go the suet route, you might want an old pot, for pity the poor soul who warms up his soup in the pot that last melted the suet.

have at it. cookie cutters make fine shapes of the bread, which then can be smeared in pb&j fashion. dunk in your seed pile, thread through a string, and, voila, my friend, you have a treat for your bird. pine cones are a variation on that same winged theme.

to make a suet cake, melt the fat, pour into muffin tins, add seed to thicken the plot, stand back and let harden. you might want to have left a once-knotted string or a raffia in the cup before hardening, or simply thread through after the fact. it’s all very simple, and that is the point.

it is the simple act of loving God’s creatures, saying thanks for the delight they bring to your heart, that makes it so magic.

that, and knowing as you settle your head for the longest night’s sleep that you warmed the belly of the great winged flock. and most likely, the heart of the one who first gave flight to those feathers.

bless you and yours this long winter’s night.