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To Be, or Not To Be: What Was the Question?

Bill Meredith

"When I was younger I could remember anything,
whether it happened or not." Mark Twain:

My wife and I had not been married long before I began to suspect that our thinking processes worked differently. This suspicion has grown as time passed and now, after 52 years, I am pretty sure it is true. Her approach when confronted with a question is to decide intuitively what the answer is and get on with life; my approach is to consider what the answer might be, make the caveat that I could be wrong, and start looking for facts to support or reject it. This inevitably takes a lot longer, and by the time I reach a conclusion she has done three or four other things and forgotten about the original problem. This makes for some strange conversations.

She has been recuperating from a broken hip which occurred a couple of months ago when she was caught in a downdraft while going off a ski jump,* and she hasnít been outside much this spring. The other day she looked out the kitchen window and remarked that there arenít many birds around this year. This took me by surprise, because she doesnít usually notice such things, and I had to admit that I hadnít noticed. My time outside where the birds are has been curtailed since her accident, so I didnít know whether bird populations were down or not. She hobbled off to the TV set in the living room, secure in the knowledge that we had no birds this year; I scratched my head and went out on the front porch to listen.

Within a few minutes I heard catbirds, robins, chipping sparrows, red-bellied woodpeckers, phoebes, wood pewees, towhees, wood thrushes, house wrens, blue jays, chimney swifts, mourning doves, starlings, cardinals and fish crows, all in what seemed like normal numbers. Going back in to report, I said, "Seems like all of the usual birds are out there. I heardÖ."

"Did you remember to take the recycling out? They seem to be coming earlier." So I plodded off to take the cans and newspapers to the curb. The conversation resumed three minutes later: "If you think thereís no birds, come and see. Thereís a pair of Carolina wrens carrying straw into the hanging pot on the porch."

"Will they kill my petunias?"

"No, but they wonít let you set on the porch if they nest there."

"Did you remember to water the hanging pots?"

"Not yet, but how can I water them if the birds are nesting in them?"

"Well, I donít want those petunias to die. Itís supposed to be hot today; you better water them now before you forget."

Back to the porch again, I picked the offending mess out of the petunia pot. The wrens had just started building it that morning, but already they had amassed a softball-sized pile of leaves, sticks and straw, and they werenít at all happy to have it removed. They sat in the shrubbery about five feet from me and scolded at the tops of their voices. As soon as I went back inside they resumed carrying in nesting materials, ignoring the fact that the construction site was now sopping wet.

For the next few days I continued to evict the wrens. Then one morning my wife looked out the window again and remarked, "There sure are a lot of rabbits this year." I was ahead of her this time; for the past month I had been watching a female rabbit that had made a nest under some ferns by the garage. It had figured out that I was not a predator, and had become quite tame; at the moment it was sitting by the birdbath.

Read other articles by Bill Meredith