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Sunday in the Park

Teri Orr, Contributing writer

It is a form of forgiveness, nothing less. The redheaded, red-breasted, tiny bird perching on the rim of the birdfeeder just outside my door.

For weeks, there had been no birds at my feeders. For weeks, I had been too busy to fill them. Now when you have a cat or dog, they don’t let you forget meal times and outdoor needs and nuzzled needs to be stroked. The birds just fly by. They check past places where food was plentiful and then, without hint or admonition, they move on.

After the insanity of Sundance, when each day I would re-enter the world of day-to-day chores — the market, the mail, the minutiae of normal things — I was acutely aware of the quiet around my house. It was a combination of not playing any new music, part of my job now but forever part of my life, and the lack of bird songs at the dawning and the dimming of the day. So I set about to reintroduce sound and tone to my world.

Which is radically different from noise. And I felt like I had been bombarded for weeks by noise. Early morning/late night snowplows, car horns, incessant cell phones matched by incessant chatter. I was seeking quiet, punctuated by dulcet tones.

At a dinner party recently, I was seated next to a man who wanted to know my secret to attracting such a variety of birds to my house. We discussed seed selection and hanging location and the incalculable luck of the Irish. And I tried hard to keep up my end of the conversation but inside, I was filled with enormous guilt. And a flood of shame. I hadn’t touched those feeders in far too many days.

The very next morning I set upon my self-redemptive path. The neglected feeders I could touch in my yard — so many are unreachable at this point in the winter — got a solid shaking out. The giant bags of seed I had purchased with good intent before the holidays were opened and poured into the feeding tub. Then I started filling the boxes and cylinders that hang with seed. The deep black, tiny Niger seed, the carefully selected wild birdsong mix (the Godiva of birdseed), dried ears of corn and a handful of alfalfa pellets. I was hoping the deer that had gone away weeks ago, could also be enticed to return. After all, my dear neighbors had given me one of my favorite gifts of all time — a salt lick. We placed it on a bench out front, on Christmas Eve, with appropriate seasonal anticipation. But the deer too, had disappeared.

And so I waited. Each day I would wake and listen. The snowplows continued their deep-sea sounding, bell-clanging noise. The occasional car alarm discharged, a random dog would bark. But no bird sounds or sightings. And I chastised myself for my neglect. For not paying attention to the details. For forgetting what was real and what gave me genuine joy. The birds had found better places to dine. My neglect had produced my isolation.

But then this week, I drove home and was aware the level of all the feeders was down. So, though I hadn’t spied the birds, they were apparently dining fine during work hours. Like the very promise of spring itself, I had hope. Even the corn looked nibbled on.

Yesterday I spotted him, perched precariously on the feeder’s edge. The startling color of his head and chest made me blink. It was, as if a trick of light, making him radiant and otherworldly. I tiptoed to the front window, not wanting to disturb his dining. I whispered "thank you" first, because I was filled with gratitude for the gift of his return. Then I whispered "welcome" and finally, "enjoy." I stood silent for minutes, filled with awe and an appreciation that comes from the sight of bright color in the still dead of winter.

My friend, who knows such things, says the bird is a purple martin. Which we both are amused by, since there is no purple we can see. I thought perhaps a finch or a wren, who can change colors with seasons but I defer to my birder friend who can name a bird on the wing as it approaches her feeders from a block away. Purple martin it is then.

This morning when I started to stir and welcome the day I heard a chatter — familiar and faint — outside. I tried in my sleepy state to identify the source. And then it struck me, it was the birds. Dozens and dozens of birds returned to sing a morning song. A song of absolution. A choir on the wire, as it were. And along the back fence. And in the branches of the still-bare trees.

I know there are weeks of winter ahead, I do. Both by the calendar and, as we know after decades of living this mountain life, even longer.

But the return of the songbirds and maybe the yet unseen deer, speak to rebirth and the eventual budding and greening that is the promise of spring.

I have new tunes in my CD players — at home, at work and in my car. New artists, old artists with new releases, and old artists singing old familiar melodies. The vibration of the rhythms and chords strike primal notes deep within. They resonate with hibernating emotions, starting to stir.

The symphony of the songbirds is a prelude to a season. And those first songs are sacred. I do not hear them without a full measure of reverence and gratitude each day now, but especially on these Sundays in the Park


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