Hunting-birds in summer showers

Version 2

“Mom, can we look for hunting-birds?”

It was hot. Sticky. Thunder rippled overhead, randomly spooking my five-year-old. Oliver dashed inside. But his three-year-old sister was looking up at me, curls damp and eyes hopeful.

Dropping lunch bags and tote bags, junk mail and travel mugs, the kids and I settled on the porch while the mosquito welcoming committee rushed to greet us. I cringed. My idea of spending time in nature is ordering chips and salsa on an outdoor patio. But we’ve all taken a new interest in fresh air, rain, space. Our world got smaller this year.

My husband hung bird feeders years ago, around the time we first moved in. But working from home since the spring, and with little to distract from the kid mess and “Floogals” on loop, Spence has really committed to refreshing them. Every few days he’s pulling them down and mixing up a sugar solution, carefully rehanging them under the eye of watchful bird-neighbors.

The hummingbirds — Hadley’s <i>hunting-birds</i> — seem to be everywhere. Several duke it out for the prized feeder on the porch; others have laid claim to the back deck, where they alternate sips and squawk at one another. We can see them from our family table or Spencer’s desk in the office. He often took the kids out to watch the birds during COVID, when the days stretched with uncertainty. I was at work, watching drive-through lines for COVID testing stretch around my hospital building.

Oliver and Hadley’s daycare reopened two months ago. We worried about what to do, talking through multiple variations of the same thing … and ultimately decided it was best for everyone to settle them back in such a familiar and comfortable setting. And, you know … suffice it to say that everyone’s sanity felt like it hung in the balance.

So they’ve been happily back amongst some teachers and friends — back and as socially-distant as possible, anyway — since late June. The routines have been wonderful for everyone. Already I feel like those strange, scary first days have receded a bit in the mist. Everyone is happier; everything feels a little lighter. My anxiety dreams spin up less and less often.

COVID isn’t gone, of course. Of course. Face masks are now a staple of daily life, like temperature checks. So much of what would seemed absolutely unthinkable six months ago — canceling weddings, suspending sports, making all-important black-tie fundraisers “virtual” — is now all just so … unsurprising. Disappointing, yes. But just part of life in a pandemic.

As we’ve tiptoed into a “new normal” (do you hate that overused-but-apt phrase as much as I do?), at least for the moment, there are certainly glimmers through the rain. I now pick up the kids after school, and we talk all the way home. Before, with Spence on pick-up duty, I’d drag myself into a chaotic house with children already glued to tablets. “How was your day?” went largely unignored.

It doesn’t now. And we move slower. Each day begins with a kiss on the forehead — part affection, part diagnostic — and breakfast: string cheese for Hadley, pancakes for Oliver. I hug my husband in the doorway, step out into the heat. Begin the first of my two full-time jobs, starting the second as soon as I see those sweet faces again.

Version 2

On Wednesday, the day after a tropical storm ravaged the next county over, the air was damp and heavy. Hadley asked to see the hunting-birds. I felt the bugs clustering on my exposed ankles, then thought of the constellation of bites that would soon dot my skin.

But already I’m often “Mom,” not Mommy. Little hands don’t seek mine quite as much. I don’t remember the last time a child fell asleep in my arms (not counting my four-month-old nephew). And I think — fingers crossed! — that we’ve officially changed our last diapers … five-and-a-half long years after changing our first. (Not exactly sad about that, though.)

So we sank into our hand-me-down porch furniture — Oliver tall in a chair, Hadley and I snuggled on a bench. I tried to ignore the cobweb threads on my elbows while we watched the feeder intently. At one point we heard a mad buzzing, and my daughter and I jumped. The hummingbird was just a blur.

Spencer soon crept out. As our resident avian expert, he pointed out the tiny bodies bouncing between tree limbs. They were clearly watching us, too.

“Let’s try to be really quiet,” he whispered to our two squirming children — and me. “If we wait patiently, I bet they’ll come over.”

It took a few minutes. Thunder rumbled, but distant now — music from a storm that wouldn’t come. Hadley rested her head on my arm; Ollie settled his hand on the other.

And then, they did come. There and gone in mere seconds, but hovering enough for us all to clearly admire them. The iridescent green hummingbird, an emerald flash, was my favorite. Oliver was so excited that he jumped up, exclaiming that he needed his video camera (an Adam Goldberg in the making, for sure). The moment ended as Oliver lost it after he couldn’t find said camera … but calm moments these days are all precious.

“I love that smell,” said my husband, grinning as a soft rain started. “And I love that sound — just a summer rain falling.”

I didn’t know the last time I heard it. Or smelled it. Or … really noticed it at all.

“Me too,” I said, and mean it.

 

That sweet bird feeder life

Bird

I never thought I’d turn into a crazy bird lady.

Or, um, a faithful Walmart shopper.

But here we are. Ah, the suburban life.

At some point in the homeownership/adulthood process, Walmart — and its seasonal department — became our new hotspot. You know you’ve settled into married life when a stroll through the potted plants, bird baths and mulch is fine entertainment . . . especially when combined with a trip to Lowe’s. (Likely your third that week.)

My pregnancy-addled feet are so swollen that walking anywhere is a chore right now, so I prefer to lean on the cart and waddle behind my energetic husband. Now that spring is here, with trees beginning to bud and our dormant yard is coming back to life, my husband has big plans for grass and gardens and grilling.

All the Gs, basically.

Our bird feeder — like a new grill — was a bit of an impulse buy. While I’m more of a saver than a spender, especially with Baby J on the way, I was lured by the idea of having a cute spot for birds to hang out. Our persistent cardinal and his girlfriend are still around, tapping on windows and loitering in Bradford pear trees, along with lots of other birdies. I love to hear their trilling in the woods behind the house.

Armed with a new cedar feeder and a starter bag of seed, Spence suspended the birdies’ cafeteria from the deck railing near our living room. It’s visible from where I typically plant myself on the couch, giant feet propped on the coffee table, and we’ve already gotten hours of enjoyment out of it.

First of all, there is nonstop traffic trying to land at the feeder. I can look out at any given moment and find birds coming in for a landing or quickly departing, depending on who is in charge, and usually they sort of . . . line up along the railing for a turn. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of chaos.

We’ve seen blue jays and woodpeckers, our cardinals and tiny bluebirds. And lots I can’t identify. Some are pudgy and stout, others lean and aggressive. Some prefer the feeder all to themselves while their compatriots are happy to share.

I spend a lot of time staring at birds.

And I’m oddly okay with it.


Tree


There are times I still miss our condo, conveniently centered in a neighboring town. It was the first place Spencer lived without roommates and the first place we lived together as a married couple. I miss the gorgeous sunsets painting the sky from the second floor, and I miss walking to restaurants and bars when we wanted to combine exercise with a deliciously fattening pub dinner.

But we’re coming up on one year since we bought the house and moved. Though it was a process getting here, it has completely become “home” to me. I can run my hands along walls in the dark to feel for light switches I know to be there. Though I still have those weird moments where I don’t feel old enough to have my own place, let alone my own place with my husband, that has faded. And I’m sure will only fade further when our little boy is here.

Hanging the bird feeder feels domestic — and permanent — in a way that few other home tasks have. Though we still talk about the condo, living on our own in the woods is actually . . . pretty great.

Until the bird seed runs out — and those buggers totally turn on us.

Speaking of which . . . er, better run to Walmart.