Saturday, November 29, 2014

To Not Know is To Wander

Birds Flying (M.A. Reilly, November 2014)


Hear that? The call of birds at the end of fall.  Their sounds filling spaces with a cacophony of noise that I can admire and yet, not understand.  For I  know almost nothing about birds and this keeps me sharp, unsettled, cataloging--even though my attempts at each of these is poor.

To not know is to wander, searching for a foothold in the world, a boat to take you upstream.


Before the late fall storm slips in, we feel the air pressure drop and the crows and Jays swoop from oak tree to maple filling the wood lot beyond the side window with an increasing insistence--like a Morse code signaling urgency. Sparrows scour below the feeders in my neighbor's yard eating seed, making that odd chirping sound that grows louder until crows strut close and the sparrows lift as one.

The world before the storm feels busy and the birds pull me from the list of things I will not get done today--knowing that what is left undone is its own catalog, worthy of notice.

The Jays are perched on branches and wires, their feathers fluffed up, keeping them warm. I watch the black crows dart back and forth between limbs of trees, noting that where they have been marks an absence in the overcast sky. I try to watch until the sky grays completely obscuring birds and horizon but I always look away too soon. I know little about patience.  And ever so slowly snow begins to fall covering the sounds of birds huddling now on branches or crowding below bird feeders where seed has spilled.

The world quiets. And then there's only snow--each of us accepted into its stillness.


Early this morning, well after the snowfall had ended, the call of young birds punctuated the silence of the kitchen. Upstairs my husband slept on and in the far rooms at the other end of the house my son and his two friends slept too. I love these settled moments when the the trickle of water though baseboards and coffee perking are the only interior sounds I notice.

Hungry? I wondered and closed my laptop leaving it perched on the kitchen table.  I crossed the floor and opened the draw that holds bread taking out a few pieces and crumbling each. Opening the side door, I noticed that no one had shoveled the steps and so I needed to throw the crumbs a distance greater than I had wished. I watched for a while.  The crumbs lying on top of the snow and all the while I was remembering how my mom forty years earlier would send me outside to do the same.

Then it was a drudgery.  How could I know what she was preparing me for with such a simple and unassuming act as feeding the birds?

In those days our backyard was the size of a thumb and we concocted more ways to feed winter birds and did it daily. Pie plates filled with bacon grease and crushed peanuts and seeds. Homemade suet balls hanging from a fence made from seeds and fat and cut up apples. Days old bread crumbled and tossed out the back door. We were nothing less than inventive in that small house just a few miles from Manhattan.

Each time I feed the birds now I think of the children living in the neighborhood and how the bears come in early fall too to eat whatever has been thrown outside for the birds. But at November's end I think the bears must be slumbering. At least this is what I tell myself as I toss the last handful of bread and notice at how it disrupts the stillness of snow.

Upstairs I can hear the sound of my husband rising as I resettle at the table, opening the laptop.  In some small ways what we repeat most often is what we first failed to understand.

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