Thursday, March 15, 2012

SOLS #15: Backyard Birdwatching

"Story allows us to bring order to experience, to find pattern in events, to discover meaning in confusion -- and story allows us to share the order, pattern, meaning.  Through story we remember, understand, instruct, entertain, celebrate."  Donald M. Murray, Crafting a Life in Essay, Story, Poem  (p. 77)




"Come sit by the window and watch," my grandma would say after finishing the breakfast dishes.  Grandma never left a job until it was done so dishes were washed, dried, and put away before we'd all gather around the table to birdwatch.  After the work was complete we'd sit down at the kitchen table to gaze out the window into the backyard.  Grandma had an amazing backyard with a rolling hill that was just right for racing, rolling, and playing.  There were three old maples with their carefully shaped branches spaced the exact distance necessary for running bases.  In the center of the yard was a bird bath with neat rows of marigolds planted carefully around it.

We were sure Grandma's yard had been designed for kickball and other outdoor games, but Grandma was quite sure it was perfect for attracting birds.  From the trees for nesting, to the birdbath, to the feeder always filled with food, her backyard beckoned birds to stop for awhile.  Whether it was winter, spring, summer or fall, Grandma thought it necessary to keep bird food out for the birds.  This food attracted birds at all hours of the day.  We'd pull up a chair beside Grandma in the morning to watch the birds slowly make their way to the feeder as the morning sun rose in the sky.

There was something about this time that made even a wiggly seven year old want to sit still and watch.  Some days the robin would stop by with its orange breast puffed out as if it wanted all the other birds to know it owned the feeder for now.  The robins would bounce from the feeder to the ground to collect nourishment as they sang happily in their morning work.


Some days the blue jays would arrive squawking loudly at the feeder.  Grandma would comment in disgust, "Those blue jays are bullies.  Chasing all the other birds away so they can have the food to themselves."  I'd watch the blue jays swoop into the feeder.  I never really understood how something so beautiful could be so mean, but it was true.  Blue jays had a way of sending other birds back into the sky with wings aflutter.  


Though many other birds likely stopped by, I remember Grandma seemed the happiest when a red cardinal would appear in the yard.  It would perch its feet on the feeder and enjoy the ease of gathering food in this backyard heaven.  I'm sure Grandma spent hours watching the feeder when we weren't there keeping her busy.  She knew a lot about birds and loved to tell stories about them.  As the cardinal would arrive with its scarlet feathers catching our attention, Grandma would begin to search for its mate.  The female, always close by, was usually harder to spot with her feathers dull in comparison to her brilliantly colored mate.

As the brown begins to be taken over by green and the sounds of birds are back in our mornings.  As the evening air warms allowing quiet moments on the patio searching for a variety of Ohio birds.  I am reminded of these times sitting quietly at Grandma's table watching heaven through her kitchen window.



13 comments:

  1. Cathy,
    I can remember doing the same with my Grandma...she loved watching the birds and she'd say the same about the jays. She used to say, "chu chu lay"-come and sit a spell. Thanks for your post, it evokes many fond memories of my grammie!

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  2. Beautiful. I felt like I was right there with you, watching those bully Blue Jays.

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  3. Love grandma memories. Today I was at a school observing. Two five year old boys were using binoculars to watch for birds. They saw two doves, a duck, and a black bird which they informed was a chickadee. Precious!

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  4. Beautiful last line. I loved the scattering of photos throughout the post. This line "Those blue jays are bullies. Chasing all the other birds away so they can have the food to themselves." is something I have heard my own dad say many times. ;) I could hear the birds - especially the lovely cardinals. Whenever I hear the cardinal calls, I search the skies until I find them.

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  5. Both of my parents are birdwatchers to this day. And, because of that, I grew up thinking of the bluejay as the bully of the backyard. Great memories, Cathy!

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  6. There is something sacred about our childhood memories. You capture the moment beautifully! I love the lines, "As the evening air warms" I can almost feel the warm wind from the south blowing my hair and "watching heaven through her kitchen window" - the whole moment is a little bit of heaven! Thanks for giving us a peek through the windows into your life!

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  7. Your story brings back so many memories of watching the birds with my grandma. She also watched squirrels. She bought expensive nuts just for the squirrels and she would scold my grandfather if he got into them. :) I vividly remember spending a week with my grandma the last summer she was alive. One of the things Grandma was no longer allowed to do was go outside to feed the birds by herself. Every single morning, she'd wait for me to go get dressed and she'd sneak outside with her walker and feed the birds. I'd catch her out there, smiling and talking to the birds like they were her old friends. Like your grandma, she so enjoyed watching them and telling stories about them. I love your stories about the past...they bring back such wonderful memories for me. Thanks!

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  8. I love the way the quote from Donald Murray sets the tone for your story.

    Your words made me want to sit beside your grandma, perfectly still, and watch the birds too.

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  9. And now I watch birds with my own grandson. Your memory brought so many good moments spent with my own grandparents. How special that relationship is-your grandmother must have loved watching you and your siblings race around the trees in different games. Nice to hear about the birds, too. We don't have cardinals in Colorado so it's a special treat when we visit family in Missouri to see and hear their 'cheer, cheer'. thanks Kathy!

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  10. Your description of the backyard was so full of detail! I loved the pictures in your post, and I love that your grandma always looked for the cardinals' mates. I'm from Ohio too so I have similar bird memories!

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  11. My mom gave me the gift of watching the sky, the birds, the garden...nature.

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  12. The last line was so perfect to describe time with Grandma.

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