March passed, blurred gray with rain. The backyard trees, still winter stark, hung heavy with a dozen birds roosting in dark clumps. “Turkey buzzards,” grumbled the neighbor as he wheeled his green trash tub to the curb. Jane grabbed some binoculars; the birds’ shrunken heads were red, with small hooked beaks.
Jane walked outside at dusk and stared up. The invaders still clung high in the trees. Hissing, she heard hissing. The neighbor said they would not snatch her cat. She quit looking at the backyard. She quit mowing.
Jane hung four baskets of Boston ferns from porch hooks, and they swung gently. She hated the plastic containers and fat plastic hooks. Tacky. Next year she would buy wrought iron baskets with coco liner.
One morning Jane yawned and went to get the paper tossed carelessly at the edge of the gravel driveway. She wore an oversize T-shirt. Mrs. Brown, her across-the-street neighbor, always met the day with her rocker pulled up to her glass storm door, watching. Jane’s “Murphy’s Irish Pub” T was no shorter than a mini skirt. That was decent enough. She scrooched down for the paper. As she came up, one of the ferns was trembling.
A tiny brown bird dithering in the fronds darted to a low hanging branch. A slightly larger one, its head capped with red, chattered from atop a bronze trellis leaning against the porch. Jane didn’t know about birds. She didn’t care. Her father used to hover over field guides to American birds. His lifelong dream was to find a birdfeeder that defied squirrels.
The birds fussed every morning when Jane took her morning coffee. She lounged a tad uncomfortably in the resin wicker chair. She couldn’t get used to its stiff woven arm. Her parents’ wicker furniture rotted in the basement. Still, she claimed her hour on the porch. The no-name birds could keep the rest of the day’s twenty-three hours. She thought about watering the fern with a turkey baster. Perhaps a safe enough distance. But she shrugged off the notion. If the fern dried up, she would get another at Home Depot.
Jane lost track of time. Pollen lightly dusted the porch. She didn’t feel like hosing it off and sipped her coffee at the dining room table. Early one morning, high-pitched chirping broke her coffee-musing silence. The babies had cracked their shells.
The mother bird swooped in time and again. The chirping lost urgency. Jane left to toss some laundry in the washer. She dumped in some liquid detergent. Usually she carefully measured to the proper line in the cap. She ran back upstairs, but the nest was still. Jane yanked the pacing cat indoors. A fresh rain washed away the pollen dusting the porch boards.
Every morning Jane forgot her coffee and stood on the chair. After a few days, she set a stepladder on the porch, about three feet from the nest. Once she sneaked out barefoot after the parents had flitted away. She slowly climbed up two ladder steps and peeped between some ferns carelessly parted by the parents. Two feathery-fuzzed babies wobbled and stretched their necks and opened their beaks, with throats wide, ready to swallow. Jane climbed another step. They ducked and huddled.
The birds waited for feedings between longer stretches. Now she could watch them at the window. The boldest took to standing, beak up, beady eyes glittering, and breast puffed. He postured like Washington crossing the Delaware, so she named him George. He looked through the jungle of ferns. He flapped defiantly.
Copyright © 2014. Southward Down by Catherine Hamrick. All Rights Reserved.
Turkey vulture courtesy of Tim McCormack known as Phyzome
Soaring turkey vulture courtesy of Cathartes aura -Florida -USA -flying-8-4c
Forsythia courtesy of Amos Oliver Doyle
Ferns courtesy of Kor!An (Корзун Андрей)
Carolina Wren courtesy of Dick Daniels (carolinabirds.org)
Eggs illustration courtesy of H.M. Dixon
Baby birds courtesy of Audrey from Central Pennsylvania, USA
Cat courtesy of Serena (“Whispers”) Flikr
Cup of coffee courtesy of Julius Schorzma
Wind chimes courtesy of Jina Lee (c) 2007
Adirondack chair courtesy of Greg Hume