Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Until last year, shortly after we'd moved into our house, I wasn't aware that bluejays could stare: stare at you, through you or through the glass pane of a front door, waiting intently and with supreme confidence for a glimpse or a shadow, or a peanut.
They do.
In any case, the birds I've come to know certainly do, and I've learned to let my tea turn cold and and my buttered toast congeal, half forgotten, on mornings grey or fine or in-between; because just when I think the birds surely have been pacified for now, they return for another token gift of a wrinkled peanut.
They like to perch at the edge of a broken branch nearest to the door, leaning towards the house as near as they can be without actually setting a leathery toenail inside the hallway.
If I ever step out in the morning and the two bluejays are not in my immediate view, hardly a minute will pass before two unmistakable blue dots in the distance hurl themselves towards me, sailing from the tip of the tallest pine tree on the next street until they land with a thump and a clatter on the front porch, expectant.
Two of them spend the whole day waiting for me and scanning the garden for me: Big Fluff, who leads, and Little Fluff who is still a baby, nervous and unsure.
Sometimes, when I'm busy and apparently not appearing with sufficient frequency, they yell. Sometimes they whisper or grumble into their feathers, but mostly they are silent, concentrating all their quiet hopes to the glass in the certainty that I will set down my marmalade spoon or my scrambled egg fork and, pulled by unseen forces, go to see if somebody is looking for me.
I have to say that it works a great portion of the time.
Do you want a peanut? I'll trill, fingering the treasure in my pocket. In reply, the pair scrub their beaks furiously on the branches, in tandem, telling me yes, please, we're ready for our treats now.
One more, I assure them. I'll give you one more each, and then I have to eat my own breakfast.
And one more, and one and one more.
It's tough to say no to Big Fluff when he stares that way, right into my eyes as if he knows there's a whole bag of peanuts, hundreds of the delicious things, inside the pantry, and all I have to do is reach in, just a little bit to my left, and there they are.
I'm not entirely sure they even eat them, not right away.
They bury the peanuts, shell and all, in the gutter above my head, or under a soggy heap of fallen yellow leaves in the garden, or, as I once noted, hammered into the fork of two branches, as a pioneer might stake a flag in the earth to say I was here first.
It's equally difficult to get on with my everyday breakfast when I could crouch instead on the front porch and have Big Fluff take a peanut straight from my fingers with a firm but gentle tug of pure trust that always takes my breath for a moment.
Mind you, that didn't happen overnight.
I spent countless hours last summer lying on my stomach on the concrete of the back yard, my gloved hand stretched out far, a peanut in the center of my palm, and all the waiting, waiting, waiting, watching Big Fluff up in the tree, while he thought about the matter and weighed up the worth of the peanut with the risk of coming close to me.
Then, as now, Big Fluff's tiny companion was a flitting green-crowned hummingbird that hovered and danced beside him and, I suspect, cheered us both on when the afternoon was wearing thin and contact seemed unlikely.
I probably fell asleep a few times during those unbroken hours in the sun, the peanut quivering in my hand, and Big Fluff landing nearby sometimes, drawing nearer, then fluttering back to his branch, his whole body asking me to drop the peanut and simply let him have it. Once or twice I did as he asked, but mostly I waited, not giving up that peanut until he at last glided to the ground, hopped to my elbow, took a deep breath that plumped up his feathers, and swiped the peanut so swiftly that he became a streak of blue, triumphant and loud, flickering across the garden to squawk about his courage.
The hummingbird, it ought to be noted, followed his blue friend as quickly as he could catch up; to this day he still dashes around the garden following the bigger fellow wherever he goes.
Since then he's come to expect his daily ration of peanuts exactly as I've come to expect my breakfast to be assailed with interruptions.
No, it did not happen overnight; nothing of consequence ever does- but at last the blue pair, Big Fluff and Little Fluff together, have tamed me and trained me and ensured I will be on duty whenever they conjure up in their minds an image of a yummy, crusty peanut.

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