My husband handed me a large lightweight box to open on Christmas morning and for once he had me stumped. I hadn’t asked for anything in particular and I couldn’t imagine what he’d brought home and put under the tree.
When I peeled away the wrapping paper I saw it was an oversized finch feeding station, three long tubes dissected by perches for 24 birds. I looked up grinning like a child with a new toy. It was the perfect gift for me.
The big station made the individual feeders I already had hanging—each with no more than six perches—look ridiculously small. We filled the tubes with the thistle seed I had on hand, borrowing from other finch feeders when the bag emptied, and my husband and son hung it from a hook on a branch in the tree outside the big front window of our Cape Cod cottage, teasing me about the possibility of ever seeing it full of birds. But the next morning, as light began to filter through the dark, I was up and I looked out the front window. There were already a few birds on the feeder—the proverbial early birds—and by the time the sun was completely up, what sun there was on such a cold grey winter day, there was a busy goldfinch or pine siskin on every perch with at least another dozen flitting around the tree waiting for a turn or trying to bully someone into abandoning their spot.
Snow was falling, drifting into soft piles on the limbs, and the tree was alive with tiny, hungry, beautiful birds. One by one as my son and daughters who were home for the holiday woke up and made their way downstairs, they walked by the window and stopped to comment on what was going on in the branches. Their delight mirrored my own.
Now, weeks into the new year, with everyone back to work or away at school I have the house to myself. The finches, siskins and chickadees are still busy in the tree. Off and on throughout the day I find myself standing in front of the wide north-facing window in my living room, a hot cup of tea in my cold hands, daydreaming as I watch the birds fly in and out of the tree.
Writing is a solitary occupation. Most of my work is done alone in a quiet house. The quick, determined movement of the birds as they feed is a welcome distraction when I look up from my computer. But it is not lost on me that the birds’ struggle to survive, their need to fuel the constant movement that keeps them warm; their constant vulnerability to cats and other predators that stalk and hunt them, mocks my search for the right word or anxiety about meeting some kind of trivial deadline. That’s a good reminder. It puts things into perspective.