Thursday, March 22, 2012
Our neighbours are very understanding.
They know that Spouse and myself are, to put it mildly, a little bit different.
The people across the road offered Spouse the use of their power lawnmower once, after they'd spent weeks watching him out the front of the house hacking at the long grass with a tool barely bigger than a nail scissors. Possibly they couldn't even see the device he was holding, so they might well have thought the poor fellow had nothing but his fingers to tear at the weeds and grass with.
Actually, it wasn't their lawnmower they offered, but they knew somebody who could lend them one to lend to us, so it all comes to the same thing, really, and it was decent of them to offer.
Lately we've been developing more efficient ammunition to get the better of the squirrels that infiltrate our garden. They'd eat all the scattered bird seed if they could, which would never do, and so we devised a weapon that couldn't go wrong: a pinecone in an old grey sock.
The enormous knobbly pinecone in itself would have worked, flung at the squirrels who sniffed around our back doorstep, but we had a hard time locating it in the dirt after we threw it, it being the same colour as the ground it landed on.
We put a knot at the top of the sock and it held the pinecone nicely, and we could always find it afterwards.
Until one day when Spouse was in fine fettle throwing the pinecone-in-a-sock, and it scared the rascally squirrel, as intended- but the pinecone suddenly got a mind of its own and kept sailing, sailing, sailing. It went over the fence into our neighbour's back garden and that was the end of that.
The end- except: finding a random, anonymous sock on one's property would be odd enough, but a ragged sock that was filled with a pinecone- that would be thoroughly inexplicable. So we decided to tell our neighbour about it so that she wouldn't be alarmed.
How does one embark on such a task?
-Good morning, and, oh yes, we meant to tell you: there's a sock, an old dirty grey one, it used to be white, and it's got a pinecone tucked in it, yes, inside it, tied up in there, and we use it to frighten the squirrels with, and we're awfully sorry but it went too far and if you find it, you'll know it belongs to us and not some mad people who keep pinecones in their socks.
That was about the wording of it, more or less, but she took it well, and laughed and asked Spouse whether we wanted the sock returned to us.
We didn't, we said: our pinecone-in-a-sock days are over.
Yes. Our neighbours are very understanding.
We'd do the same for them if it ever came to it; I somehow can't see that happening in quite the same way, though.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:08 PM
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Our bird feeder is an improvised one: a flour sieve dangles from a string knotted around a hook on the back lip of the house, and we keep that spilling over with seeds of all kinds.
The smaller birds flutter up to the sieve, wrap their gnarly little feet around the edge, and dip in excitedly. I've seen them hop right into the middle of the sieve, too, and stand up to their bird-knees in food.
All the while the feeder swings- side to side and sometimes a 360 degree spin while the birds nibble deliriously at the loot.
It can reasonably hold one bird at a time, but two have occasionally been seen to share the small space.
The rest of the time, they line up on nearby branches, waiting their turn.
Once, while I watched, one small fellow got impatient and made an attempt to land while the feeder was occupied.
No way, said the first bird, and scared the intruder off with what might have passed for a glare in birdland.
The fellow was determined, however, and he made another- equally failed- attempt to get onto the feeder.
The third time, he devised a plan, and it couldn't fail.
He moved on to the gutter just above the hook which held the feeder.
He then hopped onto the very top of the string and, sometimes claw over claw, sometimes sliding, he inched his way down the line much like a fireman would slip down the pole to respond to an emergency call.
He landed gracefully in the middle of the heap of food as he'd intended. He'd made it, and the first fellow had not seen him; he was too busy with his head ducked into the seeds.
When he did raise his beak, and he saw he wasn't alone, he was thoroughly flabbergasted for about a second- where did you come from? his shiny eye seemed to say. His mouth was full of bits of seed.
He swallowed, gathered his feathers, then, indignant, promptly ran at the second bird, who flew off, all his plans foiled.
I'd like to be able to report that the second fellow's persistence paid off, that he came up with a clever plan and deservedly got the goods in the end, but he didn't get so much as a chance to smell the food.
Still, he tried.
He saw a door where other patiently-waiting birds saw no door, and that's always admirable, however it turns out in the end.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 2:01 PM
Friday, March 9, 2012
In the little village in Ireland I grew up in, there's a small but colourful choir that sings its collective heart out in the local church.
They get together for all sorts of celebrations and ceremonies, and can routinely be heard from over the hills as they harmonise the various hymns.
The choir, so I've been told, when they sing with all the gusto they can muster, can lead sheep to pause in their chewing; cows blink slowly in rapture.
My mother told me today that about a year ago, one of the older members passed away.
I remember the fellow well: always, Billy could be heard head and shoulders above everyone else, so deep his tones, so boisterous his style of singing.
He quite literally belted out the songs, his throat in full throttle, rattling some of the other choir members, and even, I would wager, the enormous hefty church bell up in the rafters.
Billy was notoriously quick to nudge the others with an elbow if their volume was set too low for his taste, or if they were concerned to distraction by the rumblings of the church foundations. As he prompted others with a not-so-subtle dig in the ribs, he never stepped out of tune himself.
Paddy was one of the other regulars, and he typically stood next to Billy during choir time.
He'd open and close his mouth at the proper times, turn the pages of his song book with vigour, and he'd put his all into every tune: his all, that is, save for the voice.
Because Paddy, oddly enough, didn't sing. Not a note.
He mimed it all.
Paddy mimed, and Billy knew it. He'd nudge Paddy from time to time to encourage him to pipe up and join the choir for more than just his physical presence.
I was struck by the idea that if all the choir members mimed like Paddy, there wouldn't be a sound out of anyone.
The church bell wouldn't tremble, not even the slightest wobble or hum.
It's important, I determined, for everyone to do their bit. Every voice carries equal weight.
I was thoroughly baffled.
Why then, I asked my mother, did old Paddy go along to the choir every week, year after year if he was only going to pretend to sing?
A way of getting out of the house, she said, even for an hour a week.
A place to go, even if it's only up the street.
Friends to see, even if they elbow you continuously.
Being a part of something greater than yourself.
I strongly believe that Paddy wasn't the only one of the group to get such commonplace pleasures out of belonging to the church choir.
And with that, the notion of the whole choir make-believe singing- it didn't seem so outrageous after all.
Even if there wasn't a note to be heard on the wind, there'd still be an honest-to-goodness reason for the gathering.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:59 PM
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.
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.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 10:31 AM