Saturday, April 6, 2019

"Come Walk With Me" Published

This article appeared in the April 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor."

Come Walk With Me 
by Janet Sobczyk, 2019

After months of trying unsuccessfully to hibernate, I was lured outside by spring. Two days of cold, driving rain had conquered huge drifts of snow. Now uncovered, the earth could breathe again. Warm sunshine and intermittent breezes soothed the winter strain from the landscape and my face.

Birdsong drew my eyes to bare branches, but I couldn’t locate the source of their cheerful twittering. Just as well. A stumble on cracked sidewalk reminded me to watch my feet. They instinctively tiptoed through clear, shallow pools beside leftover shimmering ice. They avoided muddy puddles entirely. Most of the pavement was dry, though, strewn with sand and stray brittle leaves along the curbs.

The sunshine beckoned to others, too. A long stream of helmet-capped cousins cycled by. A few smiled at me. One dared to wave and then quickly re-grasped the handlebar.

A young lady, pony-tailed and trim in black yoga pants walked her color-coordinated lab briskly. On the opposite side of the street an older lady in rain  boots shuffled slowly down the walk. Her two dogs of greatly different sizes kept a practiced pace with her, stopping to wait when she needed to rest.

An elderly neighbor patrolled his yard for fallen sticks. He veered off course to check the mailbox. He examined each envelope and headed back inside, leaving the twigs forgotten in a pile on the brown lawn.

A young boy with three Huskies ran past, panting as hard as the dogs. The echo of a bouncing basketball wafted from a school playground. A couple in matching running pants with a white stripe down all four legs ambled past, hands in pockets, strides in sync, in deep conversation.

A brown squirrel ran across a pine branch, leaped for a maple branch just a tad too far away. It was saved from a 15-foot drop by one claw. It dangled for a moment, then pulled itself onto the branch and scrambled headfirst down the trunk.

Very few cars drove past. It seemed everyone preferred to be out enjoying this first glimpse of spring. Low-hanging cotton clouds in the distance served as a reminder that more spring rain will come. But for today, at least, the perfect blue sky soothed away the stress.

See the April issue of "Your Country Neighbor".

"The Wildlife Are Watching" Published

This article was published in the March 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor."

The Wildlife Are Watching
 by Janet Sobczyk, 2019

I’ve suspected that the birds and squirrels we enjoy watching, spy on us, too. Now I know it’s true! My recent encounters with the wildlife prove it to me.

In my new house, the kitchen window faces the bird-feeders situated beside an ash tree. It’s a popular spot for the squirrels, sparrows, cardinals, chickadees, and woodpeckers. The squirrels take turns stretching from the crotch of the tree to reach the black-oil sunflower seeds. In that spot they are at eye level with me watching from the window. Sometimes it becomes a stare-down contest as a squirrel nabs seed after seed, watching to see if I’ll chase it away. I simply watch and smile at the antics.

When the feeder is empty, the squirrel resorts to hanging upside down by back feet from a branch to reach the suet feeder dangling nearby. At those times I could swear the look on its face is telling me, “See what I have to go through when you forget to fill the seeds?!”

Sometimes when a squirrel comes and the feeder is empty it looks directly at the window, (is it glaring at me?) then turns tail in disgust and dashes off. I dutifully fill it, but more for the birds’ sake than the squirrels. The woodpeckers seem oblivious to me during their daily visits to the suet. They focus on the food, not caring if a squirrel is nearby or not. The sparrows, on the other hand, seem aware of everything around them. It must be their survival instinct to startle at every little movement; it’s fascinating to watch.

They fly in to pick at seeds on the ground that a squirrel is dropping, while waiting for their turn at the feeder. A flick of the tail sends them flocking to a nearby bush. They perch, watching for another safe moment, then return, and get scared off again. Back at the bush they hop from branch to branch nervously, hungrily. Watching their apparent anxiety gave me the idea to start throwing handfuls of tiny seed under the bush. Now the sparrows can feed in safety. And I have a close, clear view of them from the window above. It’s a winwin!

One day after I started tossing their food into the bushes, I was doing dishes at the sink by the window. I looked up to see eight sparrows lined up on the deck rail watching me. I had just enough time to quickly count them before they flew off, startled that I’d noticed them.

Then, one morning I left to run errands and returned at lunchtime. I noticed a lone set of bird tracks through the fresh snow on the deck that came right up to the sliding glass door. It appeared that the bird had hopped up to peek inside then flew away. The tracks served as a reminder to fill the feeders, so I headed to the back door. Right outside the door, again in fresh snow, were more tracks that looked like the bird had been pacing. I quickly filled the feeders and tossed some into the bush, hearing bird calls that sounded like, “She’s here! Dinnertime!” (Okay, I probably imagined that.) Then I headed back into the garage to grab a shovel and tackle the snow in the driveway. As the large door rose, I saw many more bird tracks right in front of the door. The poor things must have been frantic, waiting at every entrance.

Since that encounter, keeping the feeders full has become a higher priority. What used to be a cheap form of entertainment for me, now seems like a matter of life and death for them. As I sit in the warmth of my home, watching the wildlife endure this bitter winter, I feel good providing food for their survival. And it doesn’t bother me at all to be watched back.

See the March issue of "Your Country Neighbor".