February 9, 1998

Feathered Friends

The Olympics have not yet embraced bird watching as an official Olympic sport, but I am sure that the day will soon come. Millions worldwide participate in this activity. Although I would not classify myself as a “bird watcher,” I enjoy watching birds. They can provide great entertainment. My bird watching is pretty much confined to my back yard. I can recognize only the plentiful birds of my region, the chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, and cardinals. My favorite is the bright red cardinal, the male of course. The female cardinal is just another gray bird. Everyone prefers a flash of color.

My bird watching took on an entirely new dimension when we were living in Arizona, the land of the hummingbirds. Two red feeders hung on our front deck and the hummingbirds, with dazzling colors sparkling in the sunlight, would entertain us. We learned quickly that hummingbirds are territorial. Our porch was owned by “BD,” short for Bad Dude. He waited in the nearby spruce and would attack any other bird who would dare to approach one of the feeders. The others would learn to work in pairs. One would feint an approach to the feeder and BD would chase him off over the rooftops. The other would sneak in for a feed while BD was off on his mission. This went on all day every day.

We were in a new house this Christmas and one of my gifts under the tree was a new bird feeder and a bag of sunflower seeds. Obviously, my wife was ready for the birds again. But why was this a gift to me? I enjoy watching the birds but I do not enjoy feeding the birds. That was a job which she always performed. And sure enough, after many days went by, she put up the nail, hung the feeder and filled it for the birds.

It takes the birds a few days to find a new feeder, but eventually they appeared. We sat on our sun porch as the birds carried off the seeds to devour them in the pine tree nearby. A steady stream of chickadees and nuthatches appeared day after day. Then one day I noticed that the feeder was empty. My wife is working full time and the weekend was a few days away. I thought about filling it, but I was feeling really lousy at the time and I was not in the mood to be entertained by birds. In fact, I new that I was incapable at that time of enjoying the birds, so I left the feeder empty.

As the day and night went on, somewhere in my mind I continued to recall a recent conversation with a friend. His basic philosophy is “life sucks and then you die, so life is about entertaining yourself.” I remember feeling the same way at periods in my life, but now I am in a different place. Life is not about entertaining yourself, I had argued. It is about serving others, thereby being part of the connection of the web of life.

To me, serving others meant serving people. But what about the birds? Why did they deserve less from me? Why were they there solely for my entertainment? The ground was completely snow covered. Their sources of food were diminished. So the next day I fed the birds because they needed food. I did this for them, not for me.

The amazing part is now that I feed the birds for them, I feel more connected and I get even more entertainment from their flights to the feeder. As I was watching them, I lamented that we have not attracted any cardinals. Maybe I am not ready yet. My heart has opened a crack, but there is more work to be done. Perhaps, when I am ready, the web of life will reward me with a flash of red.

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