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Elegy for a Bird Feeder

By Eulalia Benejam Cobb
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The finches (purple, house, and gold), along with their dun-colored wives and children, are gone. So are the titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, mourning doves, and woodpeckers (downy, hairy, and red-bellied). Also the rose-breasted grosbeak couple, the cardinal family, several tribes of unidentifiable (by me) sparrows, and all the chipmunks. Even the squirrels have fled.

A bear was seen recently in our retirement community, and I had to take down the sunflower seed feeder, the suet cage (which needed to be refilled every day), and the squirrel baffle. If I had been living on my own, I would have taken my chances with the bear, but living where we do, I felt that I needed to be prudent.

Taking down the feeders was one of the low points in a not-so-easy summer. The bear’s appearance coincided with the fledging of dozens of finches in the trees nearby. Four or five baby birds at a time would perch on the feeder, scrambling and fluttering on top of each other for their beleaguered parent to stuff seeds down their gullets. For hours after I took down the feeders the birds kept coming, and I could hear the insistent zik-zik of the young begging for food. I spent the afternoon in the bedroom, to get away from the sight and sound of so much disappointment.

Then, suddenly, they gave up. Our yard is now bird-, squirrel-, and chipmunk-free. The cat Telemann, who used to spend his days leaping from windowsill to windowsill, lashing his tail and flinging himself at the glass in the eternal hope of catching one of the critters, now sleeps his life away. Sometimes—not often–a bird comes to the birdbath, drinks for a couple of seconds, and takes off.

And sometimes a bee from the hives across the street perches on the rim and sips a drop or two. This is cause for much excitement—look, a bee!—kind of how you would feel if a unicorn emerged from the woods and approached your house. I had never thought or cared about the drinking habits of bees, but I do now.

Still, talk about downsizing! After I gave up my goats and chickens, I assuaged my urge to nurture by feeding birds and squirrels. Now I’m reduced to offering water to bees. But bees, I remind myself, are better than nothing.

The universe is doing its best to teach me lessons in non-attachment, but I am not a good student. I can’t wait for the first frost, when the trees turn colors and the bear goes to sleep in his cave, and I can put out the feeders again.

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