The Human-Animal Bond, Birds, and Spring
Spring arrived the third week in March in my narrow New Hampshire river valley, signaling the end of a winter that began mid-October and seemed like it would never end. In retrospect I can recall all the signs of impending spring, but that rush of springness that suddenly occurs when nature reaches the seasonal tipping point invariably takes me by surprise. How, I wonder, do those who pay no attention to the natural world around them survive? Don't they feel a tremendous sense of loss or at least some sense of emptiness in their lives? Possible answers to those questions always intrigue me, but they particularly do as winter gives way to spring.
Although I spend the bulk of my professional life studying and working with domestic cats and dogs, as harbingers of spring and for sheer enchantment, birds surely rank at the top of the list when it comes to helping us biophiliacs make it through those final days of winter. A first sign of spring for the animal community and thus for me is the lengthening of the days. In spite of the bitter cold and five feet of snow on the ground, as soon as those days begin to lengthen in earnest, the animal kingdom starts gearing up for reproduction.
However, whereas most mammals confine their activities to periods of limited light or darkness, birds openly share their preparations with us. Male birds of multiple species who co-existed peacefully with those of their own kind all winter now become testy. The feeders hanging on the ancient apple tree in front of my house become a focal point for confrontation rather than camaraderie. Male chickadees who violate another's space get chased with such vigor, I can't begin to comprehend where the energy to support such activity comes from those frigid days. Surely such tiny birds can't eat enough just to keep warm! How can they possibly eat enough to enable them to zip and dive angrily while screaming raucous avian taunts at each other?
Then there are the blue jays. Rather than beating tattoos on trees to announce their intentions, several of them have decided to beat on my house. My office is upstairs and until the dogs and I figured out what the sound was, they would bark and they, the cat, and I would dash downstairs to see who was knocking at the front door. The jays naturally flew off the instant they heard this commotion inside, so it took me a while to determine the phantom knockers' identity. Once I did, I solved another mystery: what was causing the paint to come off the clapboards in specific areas on the front of the house. Because I wasn't keen to repaint my house every year, I requested help from local avian experts regarding knocking-jay relocation strategies. Unfortunately, the best they could offer involved leaning a 10-12' log or two against the front of the house. In addition to the fact that they didn't seem particularly confident that this would work, I found the aesthetics of this suggestion less appealing than the bare spots on the clapboards.
At some point I hope to find a way to safely divert the jays to a more acceptable target, but in the meantime they did provide me with one of my most humorous memories of impending spring. After the dogs and I made a fewactually more than a fewmad dashes down to the front door in response to jay-knocking, we all finally learned to ignore it this year as we have in the past. Then about a month ago I heard a knocking that sounded like a jay, only a little softer. The pets ignored it, but I wondered what would cause this: Had the jays moved to a more distant part of the house because all the snow and ice from the latest storm had obstructed their usual knocking sites?
The thought of all that snow and ice made me think of my long, curved driveway which by then had more than 8 foot high piles of snow on either side and was just barely one car's width wide. That, in turn, elicited an image of some delivery person parking his or her vehicle on the road, trudging up the driveway, and knocking hopefully on my cellar door.
Fueled by that thought, I shot out of my chair and charged down the stairs, triggering an avalanche of canine and feline activity in my wake. Once I reached the cellar, I whipped opened the door and so shocked the UPS man in the process of putting a package for me in a plastic bag that he froze with a look of horror on his face. I felt so badly about this that I immediately began babbling an apology, which unfortunately included something about my inability to distinguish him from a blue jay. I have no idea what he thought about thisor mebut considering the expression on his face, I don't think I really want to know. About ten days later, he and I went through this same debacle again...which pretty much proves that humans aren't much better than some domestic dogs when it comes to readily learning from mistakes. For the sake of both his and my own mental and physical health, I suggested that, from then on, he skip the knocking and just leave any packages inside the cellar door.
Perhaps oddly but maybe not, I can vividly remember everything those jays, the pets, and I did that culminated in those two episodes with the UPS man. However, for the life of me I have no memory whatsoever of what was in the packages that man delivered. I don't know why, but as I look at the slope outside my office window slowly but surely emerging from the snow, this strikes me as being as it should be.
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