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Big Box Birds

By MARY BILDERBACK | Nov 01, 2017

Preface: It’s hard not to notice that natural patterns are changing in our world – fast. We find seagulls in our parking lots and pigeons on our beaches. We’re losing species. New species might be evolving. This is a piece about one of my favorite new species, “The Birds of Home Depot.”

It’s all here, everything they need: spilled bags of peanuts, thistle and sunflower seed, fresh water in a demo Zen-garden fountain, safe rafters to roost in with no weather to blow them out. No predators to hunt them, just the occasional butt of a janitor’s broom. Nothing to die of but old age and gluttony.

They swoop down through the Lumber Department forests of 2-by-4s, Aisle 1, and over the Aisle 6 kitchen quarries of fake stone. Over the fields of powder room fixtures, through the Garden Center groupings of potted topiary trees and flats of gravid annuals, hybridized to double their bloom. They flutter around vines of red velvet clematis trained onto arbors of interlocking hearts.

Why does my heart ache when I hear them calling from the plastic shelves of paradise?

Outside our kitchen window we put up bird feeders last fall to catch a closer look at our avian others. Juncos and chickadees came, blue jays and cardinals, cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and a red-bellied woodpecker at 5 o’clock sharp each afternoon. We learned something of their eating habits and community relations.

Mourning doves hold the ground with chipping sparrows; titmice chat like squeegees on glass; finches (purples and golds) have seasonal wardrobes and prefer thistle seed. Jays sound the alarm when the red-tail hawk drops in. Then the peaceable kindom shatters, and squirrels, hanging inside out and upside down from suet cakes, scoot off-stage to a chestnut oak for cover.

It’s rough out there; there are risks worth staying alive for. From dawn to dusk they come and go. We witness their feathery freedom, which arises, as our freedom does, from unearned benefaction. They are more than their hunger.

They are more than their needs being met by scoops of seed, more than the receiving end of providers’ habitual handouts, more than the antics we describe them by, more than the joy they bring us. They are more than their own well-being.

I want to imagine wild things as I always have – doing the unimaginable when I cannot see them. I know they disappear back under cover of forest and thicket, and re-enter the source of us all. They are released from skins put on to walk among us; under feather, fur and hide is luminous form perfected in formlessness. All their beaks and hooves and whiskers are left on a branch or dropped on the forest floor until we see them again, if they let us see them again.

But these birds, the ones at home in Small Appliances, Aisle 9, who can no longer touch the sky, whose rhythms align with the buying of vacuums and can openers, the ones with eyelids and wings dusty as unsold stock: By what grace do they still soar on the ancient song inside them, unbound by even my longing to set them free?

Mary Bilderback is a member of the biology department at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J.

 

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