THE WRITTEN WORD
The Written Word: “Nevertheless, She Persisted”
by Dede Mitchell
The wind whips the heavy-leaved limbs of the willow oak. Only a few weeks ago, the leaves were beginning to bud and now the tree’s branches toss and swing like long, thick hair. I see this through the window of my study. There’s something else in my view as well, added only a week ago: a simple, inexpensive bird feeder. It hangs from the porch’s eave, and today it swings in the wind. Putting it up wasn’t my idea. A small and vocal red-head convinced me.
My husband and I bought this house two years ago. The former owner, Pat, a strong-willed woman with a soft place for birds, had passed six months before. When her husband moved from the house, he left most of the birdhouses and feeders his wife had lovingly set out for her friends. They were in disrepair, deeply weathered, and many were filled with insects and debris. We threw them out.
It was late in the summer when we finally moved in, and I took note of the many ornamental and seeding grasses that were already thriving in a backyard bed. My plan was to add more such plants and berry-producing shrubs. But no feeders, as I prefer to feed the birds naturally.
The following spring, a female cardinal made her presence known. Every time I was outside, she flew close, perched nearby and chirped, twisting her head and focusing one eye, then the other, on me. It happened when I went out the front door, when I went out the back door, when I wandered in the yard. Each time, she was there, chattering and flying. I took note and wondered about her, thinking that she must miss the woman who’d lived here.
I pointed her out one day to a friend who was visiting, after having told the story of the former owner. She gave me a look. “You know what they say about cardinals, don’t you?” I didn’t. “They represent the spirit of someone who has died,” she said. From that point on, I called my avian neighbor, Pat.
These common and unmistakable birds are named for the red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals. They are also accomplished songsters, as my field guide puts it, and occupy territories year-round. They can be aggressive, too, though I preferred the word, strong, to describe this particular cardinal. She was less aggressive than insistent, like she was trying to tell me something.
When I saw her again this spring, the world had changed. We humans were, for the most part, staying home. As a result, we seemed to also have grown quieter, and I began hearing more birdsong than I have in years. Without the nearly incessant roar of human life, our winged siblings seem to be celebrating the pause by sending out their arias. Their varied voices offer joy and hope in the midst of this strange time.
It’s also true that with the enforced stillness and slowing down, I’ve finally begun to hear them—including Pat. When I sat in my room to work, she greeted me from the porch. Day after day, she perched on the rail and peered in at me, chirping, flying up toward the eave, and then down again.
Finally, my ears and heart opened. Now a feeder full of sunflower seeds hangs from a hook, and a large saucer of seed sits on the porch nearby. She and her mate are two among many others—purple finches, Carolina wrens, and chickadees—who come to feast. But I may be the best fed of them all.