|The Actual Book!|
Heck, I don't recall there even being a librarian. I doubt there was one. It was probably the teacher's job to take care of all of that in our Gym-Stage Library. As I've mentioned here many times before, I was completely oblivious to so much Reality as I was growing up. I completely trusted all Grownups to take care of everything, and I was happy to let them.
Since I was already reading well into the middle grades when I arrived at kindergarten, I burned through the little library pretty quickly, at least the books I was interested in. But I didn't mind. I was--and still am--an avid ReReader. I also took out the books no one else cared too much about, like the Bird Book.
I was pretty excited about bringing home the Bird Book to my mother. St. Patsy started me on my love of backyard birdwatching, and her knowledge of bird songs, nests, habits, mating rituals, and everything else is almost encyclopedic. When she trimmed our bangs, she put the hair out for the robins to use in their nests. When she heard a frenzy of robin and blue jay calls, she knew they were feuding for nesting territory. She knew why we got chased by the blue jay--it had a nest in the rose arbor by the door. And it was my mother who called for the BB gun every time she saw the neighbor's Siamese cat slithering around the back yard, low and slow, its eyes intent on the chubby baby robin listening at the wet ground near the bird bath. St. Patsy could noiselessly slide that gun barrel through the open storm window, draw a bead on that cat's butt, and ping it precisely to the right or left of the tail. The next thing we'd hear was a pained screech from a cat jumping straight up in the air before it scooted out of the yard. "All right Mom!" we'd hoot, and she'd simply nod, satisfied.
My mother and I would look at the Bird Book together, and I would look at it endlessly alone. I still remember its bright pages, each one about 4" x 6", bearing an illustration of a bird. They weren't photographs, like most bird books have now, but drawings. Underneath was a brief summary of its habitat, call/song, what it ate, how many eggs in its nest, type of nest, etc. I had seen a great many, of course: robin, blue jay, cardinal, grackle, starling, Baltimore oriole, red wing blackbird, all ten million sparrows, chickadees, juncos, mourning doves, and more. But as I looked at some of the other birds, I felt jealous. Some were so exotic, so colourful, so unusual. Why didn't they ever come to our yard? What if I never saw a red-eyed vireo? Or a pine grosbeak? Or a scarlet tanager? I had never even seen a hummingbird, let alone a painted (rainbow) bunting! And I had never gotten to see a bluebird, either.
The only flamingos I had ever seen were my late grandmother's old wire and concrete ones in my dad's rose garden. And the ones on Florida postcards we had been sent. All of our birds were boring. I still loved them, however, at least most of them. I learned my mother's disdain for starlings and grackles, both messy birds who were pigs at the bird feeders, ate all of our cherries before we got any, and who crowded out the other birds.
My father had a special affinity for the cardinal. He loved its red plumage, black mask, and the way it feeds and keeps company with its mate. It brightens up its surroundings, and it often waits until other birds are gone to feed. It likes to feed at dusk, when things are cool and quiet. It is a bit solitary, and he was a lot like that. My mother thinks of my dad whenever she sees a cardinal, and I think the rest of us do, too.
If I had to pick a favourite bird, I would pick the blue jay. It is a very beautiful bird, not shy at all, with a variety of songs and calls. It is a misunderstood bird in that many observers think it chases small birds away from feeders, but once it makes its "clear out" call, it gets a seed and flies elsewhere to eat it. In fact, blue jays are planters because of this. They often take seeds, bury or place them to eat later, forget about it, and the seeds will sprout. So, blue jays might have a big mouth and seem bossy, but they do a lot of good behind the scenes.
When I adopted EmilyCat so, so many years ago, I felt a twinge of guilt. She was mostly Siamese. We all grew up as Cat Haters, so devoted we were to birds, and we especially hated and mistrusted Siamese cats. One of the few times I ever heard my mother swear was when she referred to the Bird And Baby Bunny Eating Siamese as "That Damn Cat." But puny, sick little EmilyCat needed us. And it all turned out fine.
I'm happy to report that I have added considerably to my list of Birds I've Seen, even though some still remain elusive. Hummingbirds regularly stop at my feeder, and I did see a bluebird. A nesting pair of cedar waxwings cavort in the branches above the deck. Sunshiny goldfinches seem to be everywhere. A Carolina wren kept the kittens and me company all winter, pecking around on the front porch. Those are only a few examples. And I see a brilliant red cardinal, it seems, wherever I go.
bird book image