Cardinal Song and Snowstorm Memories

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”–Maya Angelou

Photo by Skyler Ewing on Pexels.com

“Stethie, you should always feed the red birds when it snows. You want them to stay near you.”

Papaw spoke these words with his sincere eyes imploring mine on a snowy winter day.  I was living with my grandmother and him during my first two years as an educator, and during this time, I came to realize what bird-lovers they both were, especially during the winter months.  

When I prodded him to tell me more, I don’t remember his precise answer, but I do recall that he talked about the cardinal’s beauty and goodness, especially when compared to the Blue Jay– the species for which Papaw was NOT a fan.  I am certain he gave me a more detailed explanation about the importance of cardinals, but like so many memories, only the basic understanding of his words remains with me.

A long image of 2016 snow, when my daughter would periodically go out with a yardstick to measure the snow’s depth.

I was reminded of this feeling on a recent January morning, the day after precipitation conspired with plunging temperatures to instigate a snow storm as the inches of fluffy white accrued.  With the arrival of dusk, winter’s hush settled over the surrounding hills and valley in which I live, as our yard residents, the cardinals, chirped their familiar song of, “cheer, cheer, cheer,” wrapping my family and me with a serene sense of quietude.  My mind floated with the flakes, and I began quickly flipping through the pages of snow days past. 

Remembrances of my youth-self entering the backdoor of my childhood home after hours of playing in the snow.  I would be ensconced inside layers of snowy, wet clothes, and my play-shoes were sucked into clear galoshes that would break me out into a sweat as I struggled to take them off.   In rapid fire succession, my mind meandered from my own childhood snow days to more recent reminiscences of my daughter’s days in the snow.  

One of the last times, I believe, my daughter “played” in the snow with friends during college.

Those seemingly not-so distant days of watching her teach our beloved dog, Rusty, how to pull her through the yard on a red sled, and the way she taught him to play “catch” with snowballs.  Rusty would catch the snow, then proceed to eat it, slinging slobbering snow-froth with every shake of his head.  Like the 8mm films my grandfather once proudly recorded and presented, my family memories reeled on . . .

Get the yardstick and measure again, that’s another inch more for sure.

Why haven’t they called school off yet?

Spoon under pillow, pajamas inside out and backwards;

It’s what they said to do for a guaranteed snow day tomorrow

Screams of delight with morning light; I’m really out for the whole day?

Dog tracks follow girl tracks, two pals capering about the sparkling white

Snow persons with carrot noses, button eyes, tree limb arms, and purple cap; “Can I have a scarf for it too?” 

Sled rides down the neighbor’s hill, “Rusty, pull, boy, pull!”

Grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, comfort food to warm a rumbly tummy.

Wet clothes in dryer; boots and damp dog by the fire until

Back outside she goes with a whoop and a holler, “Come on, Rusty! Come on, boy!” 

Tail waggin’, he’s hobbles into action; wherever she roams, he’ll go

More hours spent, giggles and barks galore; “Oh, Rusty! You silly boy!”

Hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies for her, and plenty of kibble for him.

Get out the crockpot, and make some veggie soup; I hope we have saltines.

Steph, how ‘bout a glass of wine?

No, really, I shouldn’t.

Well, maybe just a glass that turns into two

Jigsaw puzzle covers one end of the table, making the edges first.

Scrabble tiles are intersecting lines; Are you sure that is a word?

May I stay up a little bit longer?

What about a movie? There’s a new one I hear.

Can we read two chapters tonight? 

But we’re at a good part. How‘bout one more chapter, pleeease?

Covers piled high, snuggled up under chin; the day, like all good things, must end

Sigh! How swiftly the hands of time spin.

The next morning, I stood at the kitchen window, coffee mug in hand, watching large flakes drift down, observing my cardinal friends, and drinking in their sing-song calls.  There are three cardinal couples living in different parts of our yard; they took up noticeable residence this past spring.  They have yet to leave, and I can’t help but take comfort in their presence. 

Gone are the days I look out the window and see my daughter playing in the snow.  She has no interest now that she is the same age as I was when I lived with my grandparents.  Nor does Rusty, her once faithful companion, romp and scamper in the snow; he has since passed on to heavenly yards of the great beyond. Still, I stand there a bit longer, and I can’t help but wonder what the coming years will bring.  Certainly, the answers aren’t in the sentimental past. Nonetheless, the cardinals keep singing, in spite of the seasonal changes, serenading their song of gratitude.  Perhaps, therein lies a profound melody of truth.

Photo by Tina Nord on Pexels.com

When Cardinals Appear . . .

“When cardinals appear, angels are near.”–Unknown

Tink, plink, tink. It’s 6:00 am, and the first light of the dawn is beginning to show.  While the actual sunrise won’t occur for another 40-50 minutes, I hear the newest members of our neighborhood at it again. If this were a school day, I would have been awake.  However, on this occasion, it is the weekend, and I typically give myself permission to sleep in until 6:00 or 6:30.  Ugh! 

Boink. Doink. Boink.  The sound varies depending upon which room I am in.  Persistent.  Insistent. Relentless. All members of my household, human and feline, have moved from fascination to annoyance to down-right sympathy for our neighbor’s continuous need to pound, rattling both the living room picture window and the master bedroom window.  Don’t they ever get tired?

Our newest neighbors moved in around the beginning of April.  John, my husband, Maddie, our daughter, and me, did not really think much about them.  Each couple, one across from the front of our house; and the other, across from the bedroom end of our house; seemed peaceful and pleasant enough.  In fact, both pairs could often be heard singing to one another, especially during the first light of morning and the last light of evening.  The practice seemed like such a romantic thing to do.  Clearly, they were deeply in-love, or at the very least, highly infatuated with one another.

Furthermore, we couldn’t help but notice both males have a predilection for parading around dressed in bright red with flamboyantly styled hair.  While their female partners dress more subduedly in colors of brown and buff, they do appear to try to complement their male counterparts by donning caps with red feathers and hints of red skirt their lower half.  On an odd note, both couples seemed to only own black facial masks. 

Not long after both couples moved in, we also noticed they each had the habit of dining outside.  While that wasn’t particularly unusual, given the mildness of our early April weather, it was the habit of the males feeding the females that was most striking.  In fact, it appeared as if they kissed first, allowing the female to take the food from the male’s mouth.  What love birds both pairs appeared to be!

When their habit of banging around first began, the two pairs could be observed pounding away with great intent.  This, hysterically, drew great attention from both of our lacidzical cats.  Our feline companions could, with great regularity, be found wherever our neighbors could be seen industrially belting away–so curious were our cats’ desire to see our neighbors’ carrying-ons. 

By the second week of April, however, it was only the male partners that appeared to knock around–not that we were truly keeping tabs on them.  Meanwhile, their female partners were only occasionally detected outside of their new home.  It was whispered that the females were holed up inside privately nesting.  Although, it was reported that one couple, during this same week, was observed publicly engaged, in their odd practice of kissing-before-swapping-food-mouth-to-mouth.  

As I write this during the third full week of April, both couples seemed to have somewhat settled.  While the males can sometimes be heard plinking away, they are blessedly less active than when they first moved in.  However, the tune of the pair’s vocalizations still fills the air at the day’s beginning and end.   The rarely seen females can be heard from inside of their home singing a wide repertoire of choruses, while the male confidantes still proudly sing the same ol’ melody, over and over, right outside their home.

John, Maddie, and I recently stood at the front picture window looking out at one set of our newest neighbor’s home. Rumors were continuing to circulate regarding the state of the hidden females.  Most fodder contended that due to all of the hanky-panky-dining-habits, both couples must be in the family-way.  After all, what is to be expected from all of those acts of public display of affection and strange exchange of food?  Bunch of granola-eating hippies if you ask one commentator!

Of course, John and Maddie, used to my crunchy, granola-eating, tree-hugging ways, seem to have come to terms with our newest neighbors who munch, mouth, and swap nuts, seeds, and berries.  

“What’s one more plant-based eater in the neighborhood?” Maddie teases.  “You can make friends with them, Mom.  You know, swap recipes!”

John, more prone to roam the neighborhood, than Maddie and I, claims the latest tittle-tattle accuses both couples of sometimes eating insects and spiders.  

“Supposedly, someone watched one of the males spewing an entire bug into the mouth of his partner.”

Maddie cringed with disgust.  I quickly reminded her how some people do go on and on about things for which they have little to no knowledge.

“Yeah, but eating bugs is just, well, gross.  And, I thought eating nuts and seeds was weird . . . .”  

As Maddie walked away from the conversation, one of our new male neighbors determinedly drummed a window as if for effect.  At this sound, I walked closer to the window and waved my arms above my head.  I looked at him, as he moved towards his home.  I am fairly certain that, since the windows were open, he could hear me through the screen, so I told him to stop. 

“It’s like banging your head against the wall, Buddy.  It’s not productive.  Your partner needs your protection; I get it, but you’ve got no worries with us.  We’re cool if you guys have kids out-of-official-wedlock.  I mean, it’s my understanding that you and your partner have been together for life.  The neighbors you’ve got to worry about aren’t us anyway.  The more menacing neighbors are on the hills and in the woods around us.”

I thought he was listening.  He cocked his head from one side to the other, keeping his black mask in place. (Boy, does he take this COVID crisis seriously.)  However, right as I thought my message was getting through his tiny bird brain, (I hate to be rude, but seriously, our new neighbors are TOTAL bird brains.) he flitted away as if my words meant nothing to him.  

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you meet our hawkish neighbor on the hill!”  I exclaim to him, but I am expending energy on one who doesn’t want to listen.  Hmph!  Just like a male to not accept advice.

I am not sure that I would call our newest neighbors angels, and in spite of their red wardrobe, I wouldn’t refer to them as devils either. One thing is for sure, from the looks of their homes, all bound up tightly like twigs of a nest, I think our new neighbors are here to stay for a while.  Maybe Maddie is right, perhaps I should ask them for their granola recipe.  After all, if it inspires all that kissing, it might be worth trying!

“Cardinals may protect a territory size of 1/2 to 6 acres during breeding season. Males will chase other males and females will chase other females from the pair’s territories.  Cardinal birds often fight with their reflection in house windows and car mirrors.” –Wild-Bird-Watching.com

As seen on Instagram @ forrestyoga