Lakeside Bird Feeder, Squirrels Now if I had ambition I’d be this kung fu squirrel, this lighter one, this Jackie Chan, scaling stucco to ledge to chimney to the hovering skid of the evil whiz kid’s waffling chopper, perpetual motion my only gear, my sidekick wacky as this blacker one, who tries but can’t quite nab his half of the substantial stash. Their choreography is manic, their fight scenes replete with wall-walking, roof leaping, jumps across gaps and gorges—all their own improv’d stunts, every feat a fleeting, one-take opportunity. It’s those reflexes that make the difference: when gravity catches their rare missteps they can spin around an inch-thick span of diagonal steel or the slippery rim of a seed-spill dish, always squirming all four feet first—whereas I’d just drop, back-ass-down to the unforgiving earth, my spindly claws and my mangy tail spread like a shredded chute, a plea for anyone at all to catch me. So, I’ll leave these antics to my friends, for today, the squirrels, until I can find a way to foil them, deter them from this wintertime welfare I’ve intended for the birds, whose more manageable business will give me the docile pleasure I’ve been seeking: sitting here in a chair, swathed in luscious listlessness, slinging these escape lines toward anywhere I wish. Field Notes from an Old Chair Well, they’ve come, these early crews, though it’s only March, which in Michigan means maybe warm one day, the few new tender greens making sense, then frigid and snow the next four, the fragile bodies ballooned, all fuzz but feeding and competing just the same. Who would’ve ever guessed I’d be happy anticipating birds? Since I’ve taken up the old folks’ study of how certain species seem to like each other, showing up in sync like the field guides specify, my chair’s been scribing the inside arc between the feeder and where I’ll catch a bloody sun going down. Then, mornings, if I forget, two doves startle me when I startle them from a window well, and as if the fearless chickadees and titmice, jittery finches and nuthatches can read they trade places on perches all day— size, I notice, and no doubt character determining order, amount, duration. At this point I could’ve written the pages on juncos or my one song sparrow so far, plumped and content to peck along the deck beneath. And that pair of cardinals I’d hoped for? They’ve set up shop somewhere in the hedgerows and for now eat together, appearing to enjoy each other’s company, while above out back crows crisscross the crisp expanse between the high bones of dormant trees and the high ground that runs the dune down to the loosened shore. Soon hawks will hover, and when a bloated fish washes up overnight, luring vultures to join the constant, aimless gulls, I’ll be amused I’d ever worried that the birds would never come. Lakeside Bird Feeder, Wet Snow Like the trusty railing, the congenial patio table, the steady deck itself, and every firm crotch in every faithful tree, the feeder’s become a sculpture. I should have black and white to lace into the camera to capture this transubstantiation, this emergence from the overnight dark and storm, an aesthetic thing in itself, dangling like an earring from the gaunt lobe of a different day— a white arrow, squirrel-emptied, aimed straight for the flat sky. The first little bird to find it, sunup, can only inquire, perch and jerk a nervous while, then quickly move along in wired hopes the other stops around the circuit will service his tiny entitlement, will be scraped clean and waiting like a retired guy’s double drive. By tomorrow I know this wind and another early thaw will have de-transmorphed my feeder to its manufactured purpose, its slick roof and Plexiglass siding once again resembling an urbane enticement to things wild, to some Nature available outside a backdoor slider. And I know I’ll have also lost more impetus for believing in permanence—except of the impermanent, its exceptional knack for nourishing the dazzle in this everyday desire.
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D.R. James, recently retired from nearly 40 years of teaching college writing, literature, and peace studies, lives, writes, bird-watches, and cycles with his psychotherapist wife in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. His latest of ten collections are Mobius Trip and Flip Requiem (Dos Madres Press, 2021, 2020), and his prose and poems have appeared internationally in a wide variety of print and online anthologies and journals.
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