When our children (and we) were young, backpacking was a summer activity we all enjoyed - most of the time. There were times when I told myself to think about something pleasant instead of a steep climb or my 30-pound pack. Get your mind off an unpleasant task and it’s soon behind you. That also works in the garden, especially when you have helpers.
Birds can almost make you look forward to weeding and deadheading. When listening to the voices around me or watching my “companions” working nearby, I forget those aching joints. Robins are so industrious they push you to keep working, keep digging. Their stern, watchful eyes suggest impatience and their thoughts are easy to read. “Do work faster. I’ve mouths to feed.” They almost hop alongside you but make sure you don’t get too close. When you do take a break, they move in and harvest what your digging has produced. Worms must hate gardeners.
Towhees, song sparrows and juncos also haunt the flower beds but they don’t dog your steps. They pop in and out of the bushes and trees gathering seeds without any help. Worms aren’t on their menu. The companionship is from the sound of their voices. Tedious weeding is almost forgotten when you are trying to identify the yard’s inhabitants by their songs and calls.
The songs of some birds are almost intrusive. They’re impossible to ignore when they call over and over. Our towhees seem to call nonstop for our oldest grandson. They have been doing this since he was little. When I remarked on it to his youngest brother, he began hearing it too. Towhees are supposed to say, “toe–ee” or “chew–ee.” Ours call, “Garr–ett, Garr–ett.” Then he acquired the nickname, “Gary” and as if to oblige him they now call, “Gar–EE, Gar–EE.” Even Nathan asked, “why does that bird keep calling Garrett?”
Song sparrows deserve their name. They sing one territorial song that is lively, upbeat and beautiful. They also have many variations in their scold notes and alarm calls. One never fails to get my attention. It’s impossible to ignore “whiskey, whiskey” over and over. They seem to use this call during warm weather, but water is all I’m offering.
Bird songs are entertaining but another activity can get your attention too. There is a lot of air traffic in our yards at this time of the year. Young birds shouldn’t be licensed until they learn to watch where they are going. A young red–breasted nuthatch proved this point a few days ago. I was standing by the pond, minding my own business when suddenly I was almost eyeball to eyeball with this little daredevil. Then, it did a 90-degree hard right turn and landed in the nearby wisteria. You could almost hear it complaining. “Where did that come from? It wasn’t here the last time I flew in.” It was obviously my fault an accident had almost taken place.
Our yards are full of birds right now, many of them this year’s young. They add pleasure to what we sometimes call “work.
Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. (Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)