By Jan Worth-Nelson
I’d really like to go back to writing about nuthatches.
A buddy of mine recently gently noted that my Village Life columns seem to have strayed from the easy-going neighborly flavor of my early years on the back page (or tucked into some weekend post online, like here and now). This observer was sitting in my sunroom, one of the best spots in our beloved house.
So it made sense, when my friend stared out at my bird feeders, that he would say, “Look at those goldfinches! Why don’t you write about them? And why not the nuthatches?”
If you read my essay in the just published Happy Anyway: A Flint Anthology (you should read that whole book, by the way – it’s a gift to you from 22 of your Flint brothers and sisters) you know that the birds in my back yard are one of the many sources of grace in my lucky, lucky life.
Yes, I ought to write more about nuthatches.
So I’m giving it a try. I’m sitting in that same sunroom, a west-facing yellow-walled extension jutting into the back yard with windows on three sides. Nuthatches are my favorite backyard bird, with their humble little one-syllable blurts and their light-bodied way of scooting up and down tree trunks.
They’re pretty, too – mostly white with handsome blue and black wings and black cap feathers.
I’m looking. Eventually I spot one nuthatch unobtrusively grab a single seed and dart up the big old spruce. At the feeder, three bright yellow males and two red house finches compete for perches. They are daily visitors to my back yard and I love them almost as much as nuthatches. I go through a dozen pounds of nyjer seed a month.
But wait, what did Donald Trump just say?
I hear the TV from the other room. I jump up in frustration and the birds scatter, scared by my sudden moves. I venture unadvisedly into the den where the TV blares the latest bombast.
I can’t take it. I rush back to the sunroom.
Whoa! There’s a red-bellied woodpecker, flourishing his dignified plumage at the suet cage. He pecks out a chunk, fluffs himself up and scrambles back into the canopy.
I ill-advisedly open my laptop. But wait, what’s this about our trash? No pickup on Monday? I ill-advisedly check my neighborhood Facebook page, and everybody’s yelling about dumping trash in the mayor’s front yard, or maybe at the already depressing unloved lawn of City Hall.
There are some voices of reason, but hints of mob mentality tug the hairs at the back of my neck. We’re all ticked off and on edge – but we can’t descend to atavism, right? Then we’d all just be a bunch of Trumps. What the heck is going on? Whom are we supposed to trust? Why can’t the mayor and city council get their act together?
I close my laptop and gaze back at the birds. A passel of shambling mourning doves pick at the leavings under the feeder. Up on a powerline, a pair of doves coo serenely, and I think, yes, I like writing about birds.
I begin to relax. Maybe I’ll change the water in the bird bath. It’s always soothing to watch the robins flutter around in the water. Our water tested okay for lead, so I’ve finally stopped using bottled water in the birdbath. I unroll the hose, twist open the tap, scrape the birdbath clean with an old brush.
But wait…what if our pipes are still chipping off lead? Some experts say things are getting better, but some aren’t so sure. Maybe I should get our water tested again. But maybe, my worried mind fulminates, maybe the birds are the canaries in the coal mine and they will let me know if something’s wrong.
But wait, that would be horrible.
And did you hear about the charges filed against six more people in the water crisis? Did you hear that somebody allegedly actually created a fake report making the numbers look better than they were? Did you hear that somebody else allegedly hid the truth, failed to fix the problem they knew was there, misled the public, and that half of these people were from THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT???
This is not good. I decide to leave the sunroom to go out for yoga and try to settle down. But my headstand is crooked and every time I take a standing pose, I almost topple over.
And now it’s after dinner and I know I need to get back to the sunroom. Every night this summer Ted and I have been going to the sunroom at dusk, waiting for the fireflies and bats to come out.
But wait, fireflies might be endangered? Just today, another depressing headline. The pollinators are under threat with climate change and habitat declines. Now every time I see the fireflies’ sweet summer sparks around my hostas I can’t avoid a stab of mourning.
We have screwed up this world again. There must be something I should be doing to save the fireflies.
There is always something I must be doing. But maybe the something I must be doing now is writing about birds – how they have nothing to do with all our human tomfoolery, all our struggles. They are just there, going through their feathered lives and doing the best they can to find enough to eat and raise their babies.
But wait – just imagine how hard their lives must be (“nasty, brutish and short,” Hobbes said…) Oh no, here I go again.
Nevertheless, I love the birds. Their unselfconscious beauty and varied songs give me pleasure. Of course, my pleasure is not their concern. And that’s a relief, a cleansing truth. I’m glad they’re here with me, part of the world that doesn’t depend on politics.
If only I could still the tempests of my own foolish species.
Jan Worth-Nelson is the editor of East Village Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.