Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Birdwomen of Arizona

The Birdman of Alcatraz was a convicted killer who turned his life around by devoting his life behind bars to the care and study of birds. I suspect that if my mother were to compile a list of people she admires Robert Stroud would be on it—probably after St. Francis of Assisi and John James Audubon, but possibly before Mother Teresa and men of lesser accomplishment like, say, Thomas Edison. Frankly, my mother has gone to the birds.

I’d have never believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself. When my grandmother lived with us, her greatest joy in life was feeding the wild birds that flocked to her back door. My mother hated those birds, and with good reason. She bought a bright, shiny new car almost every year; the birds left poop-stains on the paint jobs. She took great pride in her carefully manicured yard; the birds scattered unsightly seed that grew into weeds and attracted bugs and vermin. Despite my mother’s constant complaints about her fine-feathered enemies, her mother slipped me money every Saturday to ride my bike to the store for a 5-lb bag of seed. When Grandma succumbed to lung cancer, I worried that dozens of seed-deprived sparrows would follow their former benefactor in a great migration toward the Light.

When we moved back to Arizona, a cycle repeated itself and my mother moved in with us. She’d sold the house – and virtually everything else she possessed. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that she arrived with her clothing, a chair, a bed, and a table. Oh, and one thing more: we were still assembling her bed when she handed me a 5-lb bag of bird seed and a cheap plastic birdfeeder, clearly left over from the Grandma-administration. She said only, “I hope you have a post for this.” I didn’t, but the local lumberyard sold me one.

Five years have passed and my mother—who has never been one for doing anything halfway—now has seventeen birdfeeders and two birdbaths within view from her picture window. (But she is in town today, so there may be three birdbaths and twenty feeders before I get this posted.) She caters to finches, sparrows, mourning doves, orioles, hummingbirds, and other winged creatures that I’d have to get out her bird book and binoculars to identify. By association (and much to her chagrin) she also feeds two squirrels, one hawk, a roadrunner, countless mice, at least one fat gopher snake . . . and most of the neighborhood cats. This nature preserve she has going is not exactly convenient for anybody besides the cats. One example—from many:

Before my son left for Iraq he draped a Marine Corps-issue dress coat over his chin-up bar. Before I could take it to the cleaners as I’d promised, an industrious oriole built a nest in one pocket and filled said nest with eggs. The picture at left shows the situation as of this morning. So as not to disturb the nursery—and get our eyes pecked out by the mother bird—we can no longer open the door leading to the back porch, nor can we turn on the porch light under any circumstance. This means that the cat has to be let in and out a window and I have to walk a half-mile around the house to feed the chickens and/or retrieve food from the freezer. But one must have priorities and my mother’s "priorities" are nesting.

Yesterday evening I looked out a window to see my mother sitting on the bench we put up when the 25-foot trek from the seed barrels to the feeders became too much for her. A hummingbird hovered over her head, two doves pecked the ground near her feet, an oriole hung upside-down from its nectar feeder nearby, and the St. Francis statue was knee-deep in sparrows. There sat the former bird-hater, looking as much a part of the scene as the bird-loving cement saint. The feathered fauna are so accustomed to her by now that the mechanical click of her oxygen tank no longer startles them, nor does the deep, rattling cough that often comes with her struggle for breath. I thought of how like the famed Birdman she is. In her case, the person she's killed is herself. She is now serving (like her mother before her) the end of a life sentence without possibility of parole. The unpardonable crime? Smoking. If she could take back the terrible choice she would. Because she can’t, she’s made another: to avoid despair and hopelessness by looking beyond her prison. It gives me great comfort see her gazing peacefully up into the sky because I know that beyond the soaring birds is He who marks the life of each sparrow. I think it was He who brought my mother around to her mother’s great love. Or perhaps He merely provided beautiful, hungry birds, and her innate curiosity and boundless charity did the rest.

True confession: I just can’t make myself love birds the way my grandmother did and my mother does. They’re too messy and noisy and prolific and—in the case of hummingbirds—viciously territorial to elicit my affection. Nevertheless, it won’t surprise me if the day comes when I arrive at my daughter’s home with a suitcase in one hand and a beat-up plastic birdfeeder in the other. She won’t have a post, of course . . . but she’ll get one.


At 4/20/2007 12:07 PM, Blogger Josi said...

What a beautiful post (not the wooden kind) and what a lucky mother you have to such a tender daughter. Best of luck to you, your mom and your wildlife preserve.

At 4/20/2007 1:53 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Kerry, your posts are so truly inspirational and uplifting, I look forward to them every week. How lucky are you to have your mother. Just as lucky as she is to have you.

And with our pet bird's recent passing, I know how easy it is to get attached to the beautiful creatures that God has put here on earth.

Thanks for your sweet blog today.
{{big squishy hug for you}}

At 4/20/2007 2:09 PM, Anonymous cheri said...

Kerry, you have an eloquent way of sharing life's difficult adventures. As I read this blog, I kept picturing a favorite scene from "Mary Poppins," where the little boy comes to understand the importance of "feeding the birds,"
effectively causing quite a disruption in the process.

A favorite aunt and uncle who built a retirement cabin in Grays Lake Valley, hung several hummingbird feeders outside the picture window in the living room. I noticed that the little children, and the aging adults were the two groups of people enthralled by the tiny birds who flocked to these feeders.

As my own mother moves ever closer to leaving this mortal world, she too has developed an obsession with filling a bird-feeder each morning, taking delight in knowing she is feeding a myriad of local birds. The last time I was down for a visit, she pointed out how those birds now sit in her trees in the front yard and sing to her. =)I'm more convinced they're sticking around for the next round of birdseed, but nevertheless, they do sit and sing, and my mother loves it.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in life's hustling bustle, we lose sight of the simple joys.
Thank you for sharing. =)

At 4/20/2007 5:20 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

I have a birdfeeder in my back yard and though I have to go heavy on the Round-up underneath it each spring, it's worth it. Great post, Kerry. I find it interesting that so often the best comedy writers are also the best at evoking other emotions. I truly admire your ability to make others laugh-or cry, but mostly to see small things in a grander light.

At 4/20/2007 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BEAUTIFUL post. It really touched me.

(too lazy to log in)

At 4/20/2007 7:24 PM, Blogger oshee said...

This is a beautiful post. You express such love and tenderness for your mom. I understand that and I hope should my mom ever need me to help her similarly I will rise so well to the need.

At 4/20/2007 10:18 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Kerry, Kerry, Kerry. That is why I love you and your writing so much. I teach weeks of classes on how to write, and these stories flow out of you like water.

I think Heavenly Father looked at what he was sending down to Earth when you were born, and said, "She is such a wonderful person and is going to have so many great experiences, I have to bless her with the talent to record them for all posterity."

Great blog! Let us know when the pocket, er birds, hatch

At 4/22/2007 11:32 AM, Anonymous kerry said...

Ever the gentleman, Jeff. Thank you for that. But be assured I'm still studying every one of your posts -- me and the honors English class at Enterprise high school -- hoping to one day write best-sellers like yours instead of bird blogs. I have a long way to go, but the best teacher around.

Also, I'm a lousy photographer. The birds HAVE hatched. Hopefully they will sooon take flight. I considered putting a mattress under their nest, just in case, then I remembered that I hate birds!

At 4/22/2007 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry, I'm heartbroken. I thought you loved geese.

At 4/22/2007 4:39 PM, Anonymous kerry said...

Heartbroken: Geese aren't birds. They are a force of nature unto themselves. Trust me on this one.

(And I probably don't hate sparrows, either. They're simply lovely in other people's yards.)

At 4/24/2007 9:20 AM, Blogger G. Parker said...

Your post reminded me of my mother. She wasn't as crazy about birds as your grandmother and mother, but she loved them and collected figurines and had a couple of bird feeders. We all knew she loved them and could tell us what kind was what. When she passed away, she told us that she was going back on the bird committee. She was convinced that she'd been on the bird committee when the world was created. Sounds like your grandmother was too.
Loved your blog.

At 4/24/2007 10:56 AM, Anonymous kerry said...

G: Loved your comment! In fact, it took my breath away. I'll have to run in and share it with my mom. She's never before believed in a hereafter -- or a heretofore, I guess -- but she's beginning to have hope. :-)

Have you ever read a children's book called "The Artist?" (I'm ashamed to admit that I can't remember the name of the author.) Anyway, it's about a man (well, dog) who wants to spend his life painting, but instead works to support his family, serve his fellowmen, etc. When he finally passes -- without a masterpiece to his name -- God chooses him to paint the sunrise. It's magnificent. Your thoughts reminded me, fondly, of that. THANK YOU!

At 4/25/2007 9:04 AM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

you've written something beautiful and it made me laugh at the fact that I bought my mother in law twenty pounds of bird seed for mother's day along with her real gift to support her bird feeding addiction. Thanks so much Kerry, for sharing your talent.

At 1/30/2008 10:34 PM, Blogger Eva said...

This was posted a long time ago but I happened upon it and had to tell you how beautiful it is.
Thank you


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