GARDEN REPORT (Part 1): My garden in winter –for the birds…..

Now is the winter of our….how does it go again? Discontent? Malcontent?

Today it is 19 degrees. Not a day to sit outside in my garden. But not a day of ‘discontent’, or indeed, ‘malcontent’.

I had worked late; rose at noon. No –I stirred at noon. And when I say “stirred”, I’m not talking about a cup of tea. That comes later. I stirred, but stayed in the warmth of the bed.

[[The phone rings –a dear old friend; lovely to hear from her. She tells me, among other things, about a course in Contemporary Fiction that she is taking at NYU –for the pure enjoyment and interest of it, which are probably the only proper reasons to do anything.

I tell her that I am feeling somewhat….fiction-deprived. For too long my reading has been either “keeping up with the news” or, it has been “research-inflected, focussed on the Hermann Gebler book” –with all the concomitant background reading that goes with it. It is all utterly engaging, and fascinating, but I still find myself momentarily envying her her freedom to indulge herself.

But –she is she, and I am me. And I will have the pleasure –in time– of hearing her take on the “Con-Fic” course.]]

I get up. I look out the window to the garden. Two mourning doves are sitting IN the main bird-feeder, waiting for me. In the severe cold their feathers are puffed out –a little like those overstuffed down jackets, only much much nicer. Their beaks are immersed in the chest feathers.
They are in that altered state of infinite animal patience, animal acceptance. Just –there. That’s our job.

But, ‘there’ in the Bird Feeder. Waiting. Patiently. In the circumstances that is (almost) a….political statement.

I get my bag of mixed birdseed from the refrigerator and open the door. I make the bag-shake noise that tells them: I am coming.

There are four mourning doves there, altogether. But –now, oddly, they all fly off.

Three exit stage right. The fourth flies to the bare limbs of the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus) at the bottom of the garden. This one is my closest mourning-dove pal who the other day, quite alone, became utterly bemused when I played “God rest ye merry….Gentlemen? Mourning Doves?” on my Yamaha keyboard for it. It especially liked the “Vox Humana” version.

The branches of the Tree of Heaven are flatblack against the bright but weak and watery sun behind them.

I put the seed in the feeders. It rattles into the metal “basin”. All the while I am chirp-whistling my attempt at sparrow imitation. The sparrows in the hedge spring into action. “Look lively, lads” –a Robert Newton line from “Treasure Island” and sixty years ago– comes to mind.”

The sparrows look lively, hopping about, “sharpening” their beaks on bare Forsythia branches, in anticipation of their imminent meal. “We are Ready.”

I retreat. One sparrow flies to the feeder, then an immediate second. Then, six more, in a blur. Then, in a whirr, some twenty or more. They land all-over –on the trellis, the clothes line, the ground. They are waiting their turn at the crowded feeder. (Sparrows have a more evolved civilized, communitarian, approach to feeding than do the mourning doves: a ‘big dog’ dove will most of the time monopolise the feeder by flapping its wings aggressively at other “competitors” and often actually pecking others away. After a brief, sharp scuffle, one often sees a fluffy feather or two float slowly to the ground.
The sparrows, on the other hand, seem for the most part perfectly accepting of all their sparrow pals –indeed, of all birds. Now and then you will see them peck at a particular sparrow, but that always seems to be more ‘personal’ than ‘territorial’, a tiff carried over from the hedge. *The reader will, I trust, forgive my anthropomorphism: it does seem better suited to the narrative than….what?….an academic, scientific account?…which at any rate I could hardly even attempt.)
Now they are hungry, and their feeding seems more active that normal. Probably a combination of colder-cold and longer-wait.

I look up at the Tree of Heaven for my mourning dove.

He is gone.


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