Monday, March 8, 2021

SOL21 Slice 8: The writer bird


I am participating in the
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2021.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for nurturing teacher-writers!

I am thinking about stereotypes, thinking about fixed opinions, and how wrong we can be. I learned this from the female cardinal outside my window. Seriously. What do I think I know about birds? What have I heard?

Flit, like a bird.
Attention span of a bird.
Eat, like a bird.

These are pejoratives, right? Limiting one's expectations - especially if said about a person, often with a sarcastic tone. 

Ah, this little bird set me straight. She was perched in the mahonia bush, at my bedroom window, when I opened my curtains. My eyes were immediately drawn to her, although her movements were slow and focused. Perhaps it was her brown-red color in the midst of the deep green of the shrub. Almost immediately, there was a flash of bright red - her male partner? - that flew towards the neighbor's yard. Isn't it strange that the female cardinal is more modest in color than the male? I paused and stared, figuring she would fly off with the male very quickly; why not take a moment, and just savor the surprise of her. So, I stood still and just watched.

My first gift is that she does not fly away.
That male partner has no hold on her.
She has things to do. 

I look at her and 
she looks up at me,
looks directly at me,
'sizes me up'
finds me ignorable,
looks back down, 
continues her work.

What is her work? What is she doing? We were only about four feet from one another, separated by the window, so I was able to observe closely. 

She nibbles pecks pokes
the small emerging yellow seed-like growth 
of the mahonia berries
busy busy busy
remnants of these fall 
to the ground.

The berries aren't here yet, what is it you are after? Is there nutritional value in this early stage of a berry's growth? Watching her, I realize, this is perhaps where all those 'volunteer' mahonia plants come from in the yard, these surprise droppings, as she works. Or is this some spring task she always performs, that readies the berries to be? Perhaps this isn't eating, but a refining, something that fosters growth in the berries, a spring ritual I've never witnessed? (I am reminded of tiny little ants that walk around and around the circumference of a peony bud, drawing it out, encouraging its bloom.) What more do I not know? 

She sat and sat and sat
close enough
I could see the seed in her mouth

There was a cold and strong wind, yet there she remained, persevering, despite the trembling, wiggling branches. Mahonia is a very sturdy plant, with thick stems, pretty impervious to the wind in general, so it surprised me to see the branches shifting so freely with the wind. She holds on, burrows, hones in on the work to be done. 

The next wonder,
I see that her color is much greater than
"less red than the male" -
(why define her against the male?)
her beautiful body is a blend 
gray, brown, orange, and red,
with lines of deep black around her eyes
as if adorned with high fashion eyeglasses
and this funny, whimsical, bright red tuft on top - alert!

(This last feature cracks me up. I've nicknamed our youngest grandchild "Bird" and, at four months of age, she has this same plumage on top. Her head is bald along the sides, with this wild, irrepressible tuft of hair -  black, not red - on top. Yes, I was right to nickname her Bird!) 

I stare intensely for the first while, and wait to get my tea, just watching her. I am like this bird, focused, but she outlasts me. I get my tea. I make my bed. I check on her, throughout my morning routine. Then I return to the window, to see her through this work of hers. I kid you not, she worked in that mahonia bush for forty minutes.  

She flies away - without a glance at me. 

This female cardinal, this gift of the morning, such stamina, such fortitude. 

Why didn't I think to take a picture?

How about a little poem?

despite the cold
despite the wind
there you are 
so focused
no hurry to leave
look about
nibble peck munch
check it out
pause and continue

look over there
and there
look this way, that way,
back to work,
munch, munch, munch
check those feathers
peck, pick, poke
pause and continue

stand a moment 
primp, plump, shiver, swell,
spread those feathers
settle back 
hone in 
soft and focused
pause and continue

"I'm like a bird, I only fly away. 
I don't know where my soul is. 
I don't know where my home is." 
- Nelly Furtado


  1. Maureen, again I loved reading your sweet message of the female cardinal. So many observations, how she doesn't run at the beck and call of the male, that she was persistent, her subtle, but beautiful colors. I love all you learned from your observations this morning, and that you knew she had been there for 40 minutes, at least. Thank you for this sweet slice of your life, and the poem is better than a picture.

    1. Thank you, Denise! I decided that writing about her was a sweet celebration of female power on International Women's Day!

  2. I adored this slice about the bird. Your close observations led to a beautiful poem, Maureen.

    We planted seven trees in our backyard this past fall. It'll probably take a few years for them to grow tall, but I hope some birds find their way to them someday...

    1. Thank you, Stacey! The birds will love the trees! It is a silver lining of the pandemic to have the time and quiet space to observe this little bird so closely.

  3. You have such keen observations of the Cardinal. I wonder if all that time in the mahonia does something to help the tree, if tomorrow the bird will return to collect something she could not today. And are females of myriad species defined against the male counterpart? We need to change that. I wonder if the muted female colors are to keep the pesky males away. I love that you call your new granddaughter “bird.” My grandmother called me “Twitter.”

    1. Thanks, Glenda! Yes, watching that bird has sent me on a mission to learn a little more about cardinals in spring - what was she up to? That is wild that your grandmother called you "Twitter" - wonder what she would think of this world where Twitter is so ubiquitous!

  4. Your opening of "what you know about birds" contrasts so concretely with the female cardinal's persistent actions. It makes a strong statement about females in general being miss labeled. Nice.

    1. Yes! "Females in general being mislabeled" - so true!