Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


Even In December, life goes on

Bill Meredith

"I weep for you," the Walrus said, "I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out those of the largest size,
holding his pocket-handkerchief before his streaming eyes.
…Lewis Carroll, 1871: Through the Looking-glass.

(12/2017) The year is winding down, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I’ve decided that perhaps the way you interpret the passage of time depends on how old you are. I was talking to a friend the other day who was celebrating his first birthday, and he was of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter; he just pulled on my beard and giggled when I asked him. His brother, who is eight, said firmly that it means we have almost completed another trip in our orbit around the sun, and when January gets here we will start another one. My wife expressed it differently, but she meant basically the same thing: "Same old same-old" …not as elegant as "No new thing under the sun" in Ecclesiastes, but clear enough as an opinion. Of course, her opinion could mean some changes are needed in my theory that opinions depend on how old you are… but, then, my wife does say she is quite a bit younger than I am….

As October drifted into the past, temperatures dropped at a pretty regular rate each day, and migratory birds drifted off toward the south casually, responding to their pituitary glands rather than to sudden cold spells. Hummingbirds, chimney swifts, swallows and the like left a few days or weeks later than usual. Winter residents like juncos and white-throated sparrows showed up late; in fact, some of them, like purple finches and tree sparrows still haven’t arrived.

As I get older I seem to forget things that should have been done on schedule until they become emergencies, and thus when November arrived I still hadn’t put out the bird feeders. Finally we had hard frosts on two successive nights, so I got the two feeders cleaned and filled… sunflower seeds in the one hung from the plum tree, and mixed seeds in the one on the iron pole by the window. The next morning, it seemed that no one had noticed; but by noon some scouting parties of starlings and house finches found that the table had been set. They chirped out a bulletin, and by evening the yard was full of birds. Things seemed to be back to normal; but the following morning when I staggered into the kitchen rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, the feeder on the plum tree was still full of seeds and not a bird was in sight. I was puzzled for a moment, but when I moved to where I could see the other feeder, the reason was obvious. Sitting on top of the mixed-seed feeder was a red-shouldered hawk.

The birds that ordinarily sit there are drably-colored little things, five or six inches long, and when you expect to see those little fellows, a hawk comes as a shock, even when you’ve seen it before. Evidently it couldn’t see through the window glass, for it sat there at least five minutes, staring directly at me; it was probably seeing its own reflection. I estimated that it was about 20 inches long, so it was probably a male (females are larger… about two feet long, beak to tail). It looked just like the one Audubon painted 200 years ago… narrow red and white stripes on the breast, powerful yellow talons, broad black and white stripes on the tail.

This hawk has been around all summer; I would hear him frequently when I went out to get the morning paper. He likes to sit in the old sycamore tree beside the haunted house next door, where he has a clear view of any field mice, snakes or chipmunks that might be around, and he would scold at me in a voice like a blue jay’s. He had probably been sitting up there that morning, noticed the sparrows and mourning doves around my feeders, and decided to make a pass at them… nothing ventured, nothing gained. But he was too far away; they would have seen him coming and scrambled to safety in the juniper bush when he dived at them. But he’s used to failing. He was probably muttering "Better luck next time" to himself as he sat there on the feeder. If he catches something in one out of the next ten attacks he makes, he will call it a good day.

I don’t mind having the hawk around my yard. He’s a beautiful thing to see, whether he is perched on the feeder or soaring 500 feet overhead. I saw him there yesterday among the clouds with another of his kind, facing into the wind with his wings extended motionlessly, just hanging there in the air; it looked like a very pleasant way to spend some time on a clear fall day. I put out the feeder so I can see some birds, and he is a bird, just like the chickadees and titmice. They are all part of the food chain, and the balance of nature requires each species to survive.

In a way, I envy the birds. They live in the present; they have no awareness of history, and they don’t know a future exists, so they are unaware of the mess the world is in. Climate change, hurricanes, forest fires, wars, famines, epidemics and amoral politicians mean nothing to them. Their world is changing, just as mine is; but they have no awareness of it. Chances are that some of them will become extinct before this century ends.

So, here I sit, with my computer screen staring passively back at me, still wondering what it means that 2017 is nearly finished. For the past few years I have closed the year’s writing with the words of Pogo, the wisest possum I’ve ever known; and I can think of nothing better now. Ergo,

The gentle journey jars to stop,
The drifting dream is done;
And now we’ll walk, as men have walked,
Through years not yet begun.
For Christmas is a life-long hope,
And hope, the stuff of years.
The gentle journey wanders on,
Through laughter, love and tears.

As Walter Cronkite gently reminded us every evening back when the world was simpler, "And that’s the way it is, Friday, December 1, 2017."

Read other articles by Bill Meredith