From just after eight o’ clock this morning until sunset, the male, red-bellied woodpecker who lives with his spouse and kids in a tree in my front yard, worked the birdfeeder in the dogwood tree. Every third visit, the male nabbed three seeds, hammered, and ate them. The other trips—I counted twenty and stopped counting—he speared five seeds then flew across the driveway and up to the nest, discharged them or stored them or fed his children. This was his Christmas.
Woodpeckers store seeds (and in summer, insects) in shallow impressions in tree bark, for later consumption. I suspect this day was a reaction and memory to the subzero temperatures and howling winds of the past few days. Over a third of the seeds in the feeder now rest in red bellies or bark cabinets, in a single day.
(I am the lesser god of seeds, Gifter, opportunity, neither vengeance nor punishment.)
The redbellies and the hairy and downy woodpeckers perch on the bush perimeter and watch me, and they consider the lilies of the field, and they know they are symbiotic, and they cock their heads and grow impatient lest I forget to refill their seeds, but I don’t forget as these are my family and I watch over them. These are my loves, my children, and in return they give me beauty and laughter and peace of mind and wonder.
Christmas gifts: cardinals, the males feeding their mates, the song sparrows hopping in the shallow snow, the countless tufted titmice and nuthatches and black-capped chickadees arriving as though the feeder were an airport, departing, returning, concert choir singing carols. These tiny, sentient creatures endure the cold, huddle together from the wind, the sentinels among them watching the sky for hawks.
And I, (the lesser god of seeds) Gifter, opportunity, neither vengeance nor punishment, I watch over them, my obsession with them easing my depression and dark moods. No physicists among them, no Christians or Muslims, no Plato to teach them order or manners or meaning. Birds, unlike us, live in the moment and have no words or need to describe suns and moons and starlight and nectar. There is neither past nor future; there is this sun, those trees, that blue sky, that slake of rain, the cry of predator birds, the lesser god among them chatting foreign phrases at them, yet they do not write about or ponder it it; their every waking moment is Christmas, is light, is all there is, is life.
Today was eight more minutes of light, a silent day, a contemplative day, and for me the meaning was birds. There is no tomorrow. Now comes calm, now comes fear, now is darkness.
Jean-Paul Sartre: “Do you think that I count the days? There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” Birds informed Sartre, not the other way around. Birds are existentialists.