March passed, blurred gray with rain. The backyard trees, still winter stark, hung heavy with a dozen birds roosting in dark clumps. Turkey buzzards. I grabbed some binoculars; the birds’ shrunken heads were red, with small, hooked beaks.
After a drizzle, the buzzards flapped their black-brown wings, shaking off the damp. Then they took off and soared. The underspread of their wings caught silvery gray in half-sunlight.
I walked outside at dusk and stared up. The invaders clung high in the trees. Hissing, I heard hissing. The neighbor said they would not snatch my cat. I quit looking at the backyard. I quit mowing. In April forsythia forced tiny yellow starbursts. The buzzards disappeared. Suddenly the trees fringed light green.
I hung four baskets of Boston ferns from porch hooks. They swung gently.
One morning I yawned and went to get the paper tossed carelessly at the edge of the gravel driveway. I wore an oversize “Welcome to Huntsville” T-shirt. Mrs. S, my across-the-street neighbor, always met the day with her rocker pulled up to her glass storm door, watching. My pink T was no shorter than a mini skirt. That was decent enough to scooch down for the paper. As I came up, one of the ferns trembled.
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. I didn’t know about birds. I didn’t care. My father hovered over field guides to American birds. His lifelong dream was to find a bird feeder that defied squirrels. He never did.
The birds fussed every morning when I took morning coffee. I lounged uncomfortably in the resin wicker chair. I couldn’t get used to its stiff woven arm. The tattered weaving of my wicker furniture rotted long ago in the basement. Still, I claimed my hour on the porch. The no-name birds could keep the rest of the day’s 24 hours. I thought about watering the fern with a turkey baster. Perhaps a safe enough distance. But I shrugged off the notion. If the fern dried up, I could get another at Home Depot.
I lost track of time. Pollen lightly dusted the porch gummy green. I didn’t feel like hosing it off and sipped coffee at the dining room table. Early one morning, high-pitched chirping broke my coffee-musing silence. The babies had cracked their shells.
I dragged my chair to the closest window and pulled back a sheer. I stood on the saddle seat for uncounted minutes.
The mother bird swooped in time and again. The chirping lost urgency. I tossed some laundry in the washer. Usually, I carefully measured to the proper line in the cap but now dumped in some liquid detergent. I ran back upstairs, but the nest was still. I yanked the pacing cat indoors. A fresh, wind-whipped rain washed away the pollen.
Every morning I forgot my coffee and stood on the chair. After a few days, I set a stepladder on the porch, about three feet from the nest. Once I sneaked out barefoot after the parents had flitted away. I slowly climbed two ladder steps and peeped between some ferns carelessly parted by the parents. Three feathery-fuzzed babies wobbled and stretched their necks and opened their beaks, with throats wide, ready to swallow. I climbed another step. They ducked and huddled.
The birds waited for feedings between longer stretches. I 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 I named him George. He looked through the jungle of ferns. He flapped defiantly.
George took his leap and the others soon after. I found my faith and mowed the yard.
For glorious birdwatching and learning, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.