In December, while visiting my family, a pileated woodpecker showed up in my sister's backyard. Mary, Tony and I were all thrilled and sat watching it the entire time it spent there, drilling away at the magnolia tree for insects. (Bill watched too, and seemed interested, if not quite as excited as the rest of us.) At some point during this experience I thought, hm, I never get this excited about celebrity sightings in New York.
Okay, I realize there is an apples-and-oranges aspect to this. I adore Julianne Moore, for example, and have seen her out and about on three different occasions, but even when she sat across from me on the subway eating an ice cream cone, I didn't feel like staring fixedly at her. Nor was I holding off for fear of seeming creepy or rude; I love her, but observing her in her natural habitat doesn't do anything for me. I mean, no matter how much I love a person, watching her eat ice cream isn't a big thrill, and not just because I don't really care for ice cream. I admire her beauty, sure, but mostly I admire her work; staring at her until she alerted the authorities might give me some insight into how she handles a crisis, but probably wasn't going to teach me much about acting. Watching that giant bird (the literature says they're 'crow-sized' but I swear this one was the size of a buzzard, and its crest made it look like a pterodactyl) go about its day, even just for a few minutes, was thrilling.
Whether or not this comparison is valid, it confirmed some things about how I like to spend my time. So this past weekend, while visiting Bill in New Jersey, I bought a birdfeeder. Choosing a position for it confirmed a different theory; the windows in this house are more like urban apartment windows. By this I mean they're mostly intended to let air and light in, not to look out. All the houses in this development are clearly based on three or four designs, with some variation provided through modular additions. Consequently most of the houses have no windows at all on the sides, and none of the designs take their surroundings into account. In Bill's place the biggest window (actually a sliding door) looks at the driveway and the neighbor's house (and actually is an exception to the 'no windows on the side' rule). Three windows face the street (two small ones in the living room, one large one in the office). Two of the three are completely covered by evergreen bushes, and a stump indicates the third one was at one point as well. Every house was given one tree to start with, anything additional the owners had to do themselves, so these bushes were clearly Vince's idea. This is in addition to the Venetian blinds and heavy curtains that hang on every single window. The man liked his privacy. Mostly because of that missing bush there are limited sight lines to the front yard, but it's a far from ideal.
That left the back yard, which is visible from the house through three windows. None of them are ideal either, though. One is in a tiny bathroom, one is by the kitchen sink, and the only large one is in the bedroom. No place where one can or should sit for long stretches of time, in other words. Oh sure, the bedroom isn't bad, but as a person with chronic depression and insomnia, I find it's better not to provide myself with an excessive number of reasons to lie down during the day. I try to maintain the expert recommendation of saving the bed for sleep and sex, though I regularly backslide when it comes to reading. In my ideal home, a feeder is visible from the office, the dining room or both, thus providing opportunities for restful work breaks and group viewing. In this house though, this seemed like the best option.
I knew not to expect immediate avian action. Experts say it can take weeks for birds to discover a new feeder, even if there are others nearby. Since I'm also not at the house every day, I tried to prepare myself for not seeing any birds for awhile. But not even twenty-four hours later, it had become the hot new place to dine out. Maybe the wooded area just beyond the yard made the difference. Maybe the other feeders I saw a few blocks away meant the local birds were already primed to notice and appreciate feeders. Whatever the case, by Sunday afternoon chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, a few sparrows and one cardinal had all stopped by. Bill and I lay on the bed, watching Bird TV for about an hour. Okay yes, a nap did intervene there at one point, but I would have taken one anyway, so I count it as legitimate and non-bird induced. What's more, I realized later that the time I spent watching birds was time I usually spent browsing Facebook. I don't know if one is any 'better' for me than another, but after watching birds, I felt none of the guilt I often feel from excessive Facebook time. Guilt is neither useful nor rational, so any time I can avoid it, I'm all for it.
I think we all know where this is going. Bird feeders are like potato chips or tattoos, you never stop at just one. That lone cardinal who visited the present feeder seemed to find it small and awkward, so undoubtedly a bigger one will be installed before too long. A walk in the neighborhood revealed even more feeders in front yards than I had originally noticed, so I'm already plotting how to squirrel-proof a couple for our front yard, and rearranging furniture in the living room to optimize viewing. I also think there may be a perfect place to put a hummingbird feeder over the driveway; can't believe I didn't see it sooner. By this summer our Bird TV may have six different channels.