With a week off from my part-time job, I dusted off a book project and buckled down to write. If I was looking for an excuse to get distracted, the birdfeeder outside the picture window provided the perfect drama, often drawing my attention to the variety of creatures that visited.
Quite a few feathered friends have swooped by for breakfast or lunch. No ornithologist credentials here, but I’ve seen a few robins, some sparrows and the flash of red from a cardinal.
Our birdfeeder also has attracted other visitors. Alvin, Simon and Theodore have scampered up the pole and managed to fill their chubby cheeks with birdseed, before scooting off into their hiding places in our front yard. Chipmunks sure are cute little critters.
And then there are the squirrels. The three elderly trees in our front yard provide the perfect setting for the rodents to engage in a frenzied game of climb, hide and seek. Soon after Larry fills the birdfeeder, the squirrels converge. Often, one climbs the pole and scatters abundant birdseed for his playmates waiting below. Another one likes to sit atop the birdfeeder, a king-of-the-hill, or perhaps queen. I’m not sure which squirrels are girls and which are boys, and I don’t want to get close enough to figure it out.
I’ve been surprised at how strongly I feel about the squirrels and the birdfeeder. I’m more lenient with the chipmunks, but I do not want the squirrels to take over where they don’t belong. I’ve started knocking on the window to chase them away, and sometimes even go out the door to scare them off. I’ve googled "keeping squirrels out of the birdfeeder," and Larry has even sprayed the pole with WD-40, but it hasn’t helped. Posting a sign "birds only" isn’t a viable option either. I can’t blame the squirrels for feeding themselves when there are easy pickin’s.
What’s ironic is that the animals aren’t having issues with each other. The squirrels don’t knock down the chipmunks, and the birds don’t assert their proprietary rights to the birdhouse by attacking the squirrels. They’re sharing the bounty of the seed while this human is sputtering about who should be allowed to eat.
Without consciously realizing it, I’ve developed a hierarchy of worth for the animals that dwell in our yard. As a result, I’m hearing Bulda, the mama troll from the movie "Frozen" asking Anna about her hesitancy to marry Kristof. "What’s the issue, dear?" Do I have something against squirrels? I’ve never been bitten by a squirrel, but we did have a squirrel take up residence in our attic a few years ago, and it cost us a bunch of money to tighten up the house to avoid future freeloaders. Chipmunks are definitely cuter, and I do love the way they sing, "All I want for Christmas." And birds – my concern for them doesn’t make sense – I watched Hitchcock’s The Birds as a teen and, as our birthday girl Lizzie (five!!!) says, I was "fweaked out" for days. Perhaps I’m channeling the words of Jesus: "Consider the birds of the air." Glad he didn’t say squirrels!
Am I reacting so strongly because it’s called a birdfeeder? The world should function in a right and proper way, and therefore birds should have first dibs on the seed, not squirrels. Because that preconception informs my worldview, how do I accommodate what I am seeing if it challenges my way of being in the world?
Years ago, I demanded of my counselor, "Just tell me what to do to fix this (thinking ‘them’ rather than me) and I’ll do it." He wisely refused, showing me that sitting with the questions and becoming familiar with the roots of discomfort allows truth, courage and humility to lead to transformative change.
This week, there’s no specific "and the moral of the story is …" Instead, some gentle counsel. Take Jed Clampett’s advice to "Set a spell. Take your shoes off." Push ‘play’ on Ecclesiastes 3 with the Byrds’ anthem by Pete Seeger: "There is a season (turn, turn, turn), and a time to every purpose, under heaven." See what stirs in you. And breathe deeply.
— JoAnn Shade, author of "Only in Ashland: Reflections of a Smitten Immigrant," can be reached at email@example.com. She and her husband, Larry, are retired Salvation Army Majors.