Feed the Birds

I was reading something by Tom Cox, whose writing makes me feel like there is a point to things and began thinking. That is to say, started to organize and categorize all the ideas and thoughts that one wakes up with. The feelings and scenes and characters that sink away, the crash landing from dreams and astral travelling of a sort. The memory of the day to come. All the things that one must do, should do, can do, can’t do. And then I heard birds. A few had set up a reminder chirp – hello, it’s cold, you’ve been looking at the feeder for a few days now, the fat squirrels are both helping by scattering extras on the ground, and eating, we don’t like this new mix you tried out, we think the peanuts are rancid, but as we are chirping, it’s cold out, damn out, and you sit there, thinking, or calling it that, under the covers, and we are in the same feathers no matter the weather. So, chirp.

I got up, wondering if a body in decline could be coaxed back the other way, again, made coffee, and set out to the feeders. The birds were high up in the branches. There are some very tall, very old trees here. I filled the feeders. Being outside felt so much better. I have the suspicion that my house is not the healthiest place, carpets hiding things no one may want to deal with. The air outside was, as they say, bracing. It’s like drinking a glass of ice water, the longer you walk outside, breathing the air, you feel your stomach going cold. I walked down the street, already filled with the parade of suburban cars heading off to their necessary responsibilities. Trucks, giant SUVs, sedans.

When the landpeople rented me this place, they seemed very keen to have me. Possibly because I was coming from the city, and I thought it seemed fairly quiet. And so it is, compared to the thrum of the city, the constant noise there, which could be seen to be either exciting or nerve-destroying, depending on the temperament and the day. Now that I’ve been here a while, the rhythm of noise – the paced swoosh of the morning cars, the sound of the school bus, trucks going through mid-morning, another round at the end of the school day, which turns into the paced tire rumble of the return home in the evening, until finally, around 8, cars begin to stop. There are periods at night where there are no cars at all. Blissful silence.

But this morning, trying to hear the birds over the engines and road noise, up there in their trees, it seems very loud. Where is everyone going? The birds are singing, it’s a cold day, but the light is longer and brighter, and they are singing to tell us. They have done this for a long time, perched in the topmost tiny branches, feeling the trees grow beneath them. Some of the trees here are very tall, very old. But I realized today that I didn’t really look at them. They were trees, lovely trees, trunks, branches, but I wasn’t seeing the bark, the size of the branches, whether they were one shape or another. This morning, I started to compare and try to identify them. Actually, the idea for this began last night, when I was trying, not for the first time, to figure out what kind of tree was in the yard. I’m stumped – ha. I’d ask a tree professional, but it would cost money, and they might recommend to someone that the tree be cut down, because that’s what they do to make more money. What’s that old legend of Chinese doctors? You pay them as long as you’re healthy. They should try that here.  Anyway, the trees. I thought a list of common trees of Massachusetts would help, but some I know, and it isn’t any of them. The ones I didn’t know, Red Mulberry – maybe, Canada Serviceberry – no, a tree with a wonderful name – Shagbark Hickory, no, Hackberry – not sure; all made me realize I was not as good at tree noticing as I thought. Some are easy. Red Maples, Elms, White Pines, I learned a new one when I moved here that I’d never heard of – River Birch. I think this street used to be a sort of natural culvert. It’s wet here, and that’s in the middle of a salt marsh. On looking up old maps and history, it turns out there was once a Farley Brook, and in the 1600s this area was known as Dirty Lane. That’s 400 years of water that there is a semi-record of. I was reading up on some of the archeological finds around this bit of coastline. A very promising area was investigated by a group of local residents, before it was destroyed forever, turned into gravel and sand pits. What they found pointed to people living here over 10,000 years ago.

Birds have been singing here for a while, then, by water that flowed past.

People like to think the present, this version of things, is somehow constant. That was a little bit of the theme of the Tom Cox piece that started all this. But yesterday, which had time for talking, due to me taking a sick day, I had a conversation with someone young, younger than me at any rate, who seemed to think that one generation was to blame for everything. I thought of all the people I marched with, marching for the miners, for the printworkers, for civil rights, for gay rights, for the environment. The advertisement from my childhood, that finally made it on to TV, with an indigenous man crying over the mess that had been made of the once beautiful country. The Who song – “We’re Not Going to Take It” – and the meme that sprang up – that said, “but we still seem to be taking it”. They, the mysterious they, would like us to fight against other generations, for whom they have so kindly given us names, so we know who the enemy is. The thirst for branding, for naming, then claiming some of the names. Sometimes it seems that all it is for is for giving us the name of a straw enemy, one that the “they” can hide behind. “Misdirection” is another buzz word of the moment. Irony is not.

Another friend I was talking to said, “Young people should think of the future. They have a lot of it. We don’t.” But we didn’t, and they won’t either.

Some days, feeding birds is the only way to make sense of it. For a tiny moment, the loud motors of incessant activity fade out, and a feeling that there is something more, replaces the hum and urgency of desecration.