Christmas Day began with a thin layer of ice topped off with a skiff of snow. But as the morning progressed, the clouds darkened and a fine-grained sleet began to fall. Soon, the sleet tapered off and big flakes of snow took over, whirling around in the wind. I carefully stepped outside with the camera to get a few shots of birds gathering near the back porch. Some were getting water from a heated bird bath, while others chose to drink water collected on the swimming pool cover. As I watched them drink, I noticed ice hanging off of a few beaks, and the still-frozen sleet looked like crystals of salt on their backs.
From the porch, I discovered a group of Northern Flickers stacked one above another on the south side of a tree down below, finding a barrier from the wind. A few of my feathered friends were also taking shelter on the south side of our house along the porch. I snapped several pictures of my friends, but I often find the camera seldom does justice to the full magic of nature. It just never seems to adequately capture the beauty and grace of the big snowflakes swirling down around the birds.
Stepping out a little further on the back porch, I soon understood why the birds sought shelter on the south side. The wind had picked up out of the north, blasting through the trees, and hurling snow along the slope. I had not noticed this when I was looking out to the south. With a view towards the southeast, I had been in a protected area and the snow appeared to be falling softly. Now, as I moved to the northwest corner of the porch, I was no longer sheltered from the blast of the bitter cold and the sting of the hurtling snowflakes. Old man winter had come barreling in with a fury! I quickly headed back inside to the warmth of the house!
All through the morning and into the afternoon, the wind gusted and the snow hurled down. Throughout, I watched through the kitchen window, as countless birds flocked to the bird feeder in the distance. In time, snowflakes changed from large to small and, by mid afternoon, the snow had stopped. Only about four inches of snow and the driving wind remained.
When the snow stopped for good, I decided to head out with the camera to get a closer view of the little birds at the feeder. I bundled up with FD’s old duck hunting coat, my ear flap cap, a scarf, and gloves. I put on my warmest boots, a pair of wool-lined Sorels that I brought with me from Nebraska more than 20 years ago. But my burly outfit still did not prepare me for the slap of bitter, cold wind that greeted me. The sting of the wind caused my eyes to tear up, and suddenly my lips felt dry. My hands grew cold and numb inside my gloves. I put my back to the wind and wondered how on earth any wild creature survived the icy cold of winter.
Just moments into my self-pity, obsessing over the cold, a lone pine siskin flew past me to the feeder. Soon two more gathered. A black-capped chickadee landed just in front of me, awaiting its turn at the feeder. Before long, a flurry of winged creatures were gathered at the feeder, some taking off, some landing, others squabbling over rights to the feeder’s perch. A couple of cardinals were not so sure about getting close to me, but for the most part, the birds did not mind my presence.
At one point, I opened the back of the feeder. A group of pine siskins stayed perched on the front of the hopper while I scooped out a handful of seed and scattered it about on the snow-covered ground. I closed the feeder, then stood very still. In no time I had cardinals, starlings, red-winged blackbirds, and a few juncos feeding on the scattered seed, while the pine siskins and a few chickadees continued their fight for positions on the feeder. A timid titmouse finally flew down just beside me, landed on a shrub, and then hopped down at my feet and quickly consumed a bit of millet. Never had I had so many birds so near me and unafraid. It filled me with elation!
As the strong gusts of wind persisted, I watched the smaller birds struggle to reach the feeder. I marveled at their perseverance, their pluck to battle the elements… to survive in the bitter cold. I wondered how feathers could provide enough warmth? Surely their feet and legs felt the numbing cold? What about their eyes? Were they like mine? Did they get dry and tear up in the freezing conditions? I pondered if they even thought about such things? Did they think about the cold at all, or the wind, or the snow? Was the instinct to seek food for survival much more than the threat of a predator (me) standing so near? Or did they fear me at all? Did they understand my good intentions to feed them?
Full of questions and not able to endure the cold any longer, I made my way back to the house. My feet were cold despite my insulated boots, and my hands were feeling a bit numb. My nose was running and as always, the lyrics from the Jethro Tull song, “Aqualung” came to mind… “snot is running down his nose”. It was a sign… time to get back in the house!
For the rest of the afternoon, I watched the activity on the back porch and at the bird feeder from inside my warm home. Just before dark, the last birds seen at the feeder were the cardinals. All year long, I noticed the cardinals seem to be the last of the birds to turn in for the night. Their familiar chirping echoed through the woodland, until the dark crept in and all became silent. Only the howling of the wind remained.
I thought to myself how tough the little birds of winter must be. If I were a bird, I thought, I would have been tempted to migrate to the south, where warmer climates and plentiful food abounded. But then I wondered about the hundreds or thousands of miles migratory birds must fly, enduring all sorts of weather conditions and predators in unfamiliar lands. Whether they stayed to winter over or migrated to the south, life was not easy for these delicate and beautiful, winged creatures. Yet observing them under these wintry conditions, one would not sense anything really different about them from any other day. They were vigilant, active and alert. Life went on as usual.
I went to bed that night, thankful that I had a warm house, plenty of food and water, and nothing in particular to worry about. Life is what we make of it. We can focus on the bad things, or we can be delighted with the good that we see. We can obsess with our negative thoughts (I’m cold, this weather is freezing, what a miserable day) or we can simply observe and perhaps discover a new experience (watching, creating, enjoying… sometimes just breathing).
I drifted off to sleep that night feeling warm… focusing on the comfort I felt, wrapped up in cozy blankets. I lay there, fostering thoughts about what it must be like to be a bird. If I had my choice, I would have beautiful feathers that assisted in flight, and kept me warm. I thought about opening my wings, and having the amazing ability to fly, flitting from tree to tree, and sometimes soaring into the sky to look out over the snow-covered land. How delightful to feed on a vast field of seed, or to spend the day looking for insects and feasting all day long. How about a little nap in the tree, perched high above the land? There was no thought about deciding to fly alone or with a group of mates, either would be great. In fact, there were no thoughts at all… only being. That seemed to be the best feeling of all… simply being. With this last thought I closed my eyes, still “being” a bird. I felt no cold, no annoyance or irritation, no discomfort. I welcomed the cloak of night and deep sleep… slipping away, and being.
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…