Winter Birds II - Foraging

     Widen the lens, and now it is mid-winter; Anna and Andrew are sixteen and fourteen.  The ground is snow-covered.  The bird feeder hangs just off the deck, and sunflower seed shells lay scattered underneath.  It is a Monday morning, and we count the birds we see for Project Feederwatch.  Clipboard, data sheet, poster of common winter birds, and a pair of binoculars are littered around the kitchen near the window. 
     Winter used to be much harder for me than it is now.  By engaging with the birds actively, watching and counting, hoping for an appearance by the tiny brown creeper, ecstatic at the one and only visit by a pileated woodpecker, I am one step closer to a relationship with these alive and independent creatures than I was when they were only a backdrop to the short and dark days.
     Still, it takes going outside to really breach the next barrier.   A house is a funny thing; not much separates us from the actual world we live in, but it is a self-limiting structure that we now leave mostly electronically.   To actually put on snowpants and boots and walk out the door – not to the car, but to the yard or woods behind – is nearly a radical idea.   What happens?   What happens when I leave to forage not for food and water, but for connection?
     Sounds.   I hear them, the birds that usually I watch like a silent movie.  I hear the wind in the huge white pine trees at the edge of the yard.  A chainsaw in the distance.  Crows out of sight, unhappy at the presence of an owl or hawk and calling for reinforcements.   Sometimes there is a crackling, or the soft sound of snow sliding.  Or equally palpable, the sound of stillness, which is mostly an absence, a waiting before a storm, but which seems to have its own mass.
     Walking in the woods or fields, or even down our dead-end road with the dog on a sunny winter morning, I hear the birds, busy and noisy.   I know their names now.   Anna draws them.  Andrew reads about global warming with indignation.  How many ways do we love them, these small creatures that can fade into the background or out of existence so easily without anyone noticing?  No longer is the world outside the window just “a view”.  We're connected.  We're in this together.

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