Over the last years, a number of cats have wandered into our lives, become precious parts of our household, and then had their lives prematurely snuffed out by the amateur NASCAR drivers who daily speed in and out of our neighborhood. The only negative aspect of the presence of the feline family members was that they kept small creatures out of our yard. They, being outside cats, preyed upon birds, chipmunks, squirrels and anything else that moved. Often their lifeless quarry would be presented at the kitchen door for our approval.
With the cats gone from our house and the fire pit looking great, a recent Christmas present changed my life, and in a most wonderful way.
THE PACKAGE was large and made no sounds, and I was a little bemused to open the wrapping paper and box and find a lovely glass bird feeder in my hands. I think I uttered an appreciative “hmmm”, and put the gift aside. Me, a bird feeder type person? What, you just sit and, uh, “watch.” I’m busy, I tell you.
I let the bird feeder stay in the box for quite long time, and on a trip to Tractor Supply I noticed huge bags of generic bird food. I’m talking large sacks, dear readers, and for the tonnage, quite a bargain. I looked around, hoping the shoppers in the bovine products area weren’t watching, and hefted the bag to the cash register.
I staked a metal shepherd’s crook next to the fire pit, filled the beautiful glass container up with the seeds, and retreated to the deck. I waited. I waited longer. “Come on birds!” I cried out, but no good.
The next morning, all the seed was gone.
“What have we here?” I cried to the wife over coffee the next morning. So I did what any bird dude would do. I filled the feeder back up.
OVER THE NEXT week or so, my backyard became transformed. So many birds, chipmunks and finally squirrels returned to the area that it began to look like a scene from Disney’s “Bambi.” Folks, I went hardcore. I went to the store and bought more feed. I named the chipmunks. Yes, I named them Stalin, Trotsky and more and delighted in watching their antics as they vied for the seed in competition with the arrogant Blue Jays and elegant Cardinals.
Okay, first confession: I started putting extra seed on the edges of the fire pit, cause, dangit, I just thought those chipmunks were the coolest bunch of fat cheeked creatures I’d seen since my daughter was a little girl.
Now I know that there are backyards in Floyd County, Georgia, that are works of natural art. Running fountains, hummingbird feeders, cultivated woodland paths, and more are the result of our fellow residents’ pride of place and location. Our backyard had been desolate for so many years, and now, every morning I go to the kitchen window and see what colorful species have decided to grace my yard.
EVENTUALLY Bambi did show up. She was down there yesterday afternoon in broad daylight hoovering all the seed she could get down her throat. I knew of her presence because my tomato plants are a special treat for her, and unlike last year, I have not created an agricultural Stalag 13 to keep her out. She’s a truly handsome animal and I look upon her with wonder.
My great friend, the film director John Hancock (“Bang the Drum Slowly;” “Prancer”) lives on an apple orchard in northern Indiana.
He says the white tail deer there require great resources if he is to keep his apple crop profitable. I just wish my Bambi would leave one plant for tomato sandwich needs, but I understand.
So, I return to the store to fetch my big bags of seed, toss the bags in the back of the pickup and then absolutely revel in the results.
My backyard is filled with color, action, and natural song.
I miss the cats, but what a gift of nature the other animals enable us to enjoy every day. As Emily Dickinson said, “I hope you love birds, too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”
Harry Musselwhite is senior lecturer in Music at Berry College.