Monday, March 11, 2013

Bird Storm

Even while the snow poured down, exceeding in a couple of hours the predicted accumulations for a three-day blow, I heard birds chirping outdoors.
The forecasts said two to four inches, maybe three to five. Forecasters probably nudged these up during the day, but the snow fell faster than the predictions rose.
This part of the world, eastern Massachusetts, woke to a whiter than expected world last Friday morning. The wind was blowing and it was hard to tell whether snow was drifting against the house or just piling up everywhere. The street was in good shape because the plows had kept ahead of the fall during the night, and with temperatures hovering slightly above thirty-two you would expect more snow at night and more freezing rain in daylight. But a wind change kept the air just cold enough because the love notes from the upper air just kept wafting down.
I was lucky, I could ignore it. I work at home, I had deadlines and plenty to do. Anne takes the train to work, typically blithe in the face of a little snow.
And when I stuck my head out the door to marvel at how the snow was piling up in the surprising near-spring inundation we weren't supposed to get, the birds were mobbing the feeder. And singing.
By late morning all tree branches visible from any of the house's windows were coated in a thick white swaddling: that serious, coastal, wet-snow look. The weeping cherry tree looked like a sprung umbrella, turned upside down and filled with snow. My neighbors' thick line of pines and the solitary deciduous tree whose leafless shape perfectly resembles a candle flame were all transformed into white sculptures, monochrome studies.
The big old rhododendron outside just beyond our porch looked like an enormous basket-shaped container for holding as much snow as possible on each green leaf, as if determined to keep some of the white stuff off the ground.
And the birds sang.
It was the right call, I told myself now, to take the time to fill up the bird feeder the day before when snow was in the air, the wind was already blowing up, a sort of gray nastiness was building in the general atmosphere, both human and natural -- with a heavy mass of anxiety expected to move in that evening -- and on the whole I was looking forward to nothing but a long, stalled, tedious Northeaster, with occasional snowfalls turned quickly to mush by cold rain.
But it would be tough on the birds. So after I had made day's outing, for the sole purpose of treating myself to my favorite coffee-style preparation, I put off the pleasures of consumption long enough to get my fingers cold in the act of standing outdoors aiming an oversized plastic bag of black sunflower seeds into the conical tube of the feeder without spilling so much on the ground that one might as well put up a neon sign blaring "Squirrels Eat Here!" Squirrels find their way to our birdfeeder without any such help.
A day later, when the snow takes a mid-afternoon break, and I can no longer ignore the mounting frenzy just beyond my front door, on the porch, on the brick walk which I cannot even guess where it is, and on the sidewalk that has been transformed into an annex to the snow forts the plows have been building up streetside in front of all our houses, I go out to join the birds.
A fluffy cotton-wool batten of snow of has wrapped itself like an overstuffed comforter over the pole that lifts the feeder and obscured much of that hard, clear glass-like tube that holds the bird seed.
I grab my shovel and stoop to may labor. The birds sing my praises, ignoring the snow, finding their way into the feeder. 
Small birds, mostly, sparrows and finches.
And then the loud, clear, high-volume whistling song of the cardinal, secreted among the snow-clad branches of that candle-flame tree.
It's my reward, I decide, for filling up the feeder.