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View from My Back Steps

By John I. Blair


Every morning my day begins at the same time in the same way. My clock radio goes off at 6:00. Not with soothing sounds from the local classical music station Ė that would just soothe me ever deeper into whatever dreams I might be having Ė but with a raucous electronic klaxon beep that starts loud and gradually gets louder and louder until I have to struggle upright, stuff my feet into my sneakers, stagger over to the radio (which I purposely keep completely out of reach from the bed) and punch it into silence. By then Iím awake and shod and vertical, so I keep moving.

My first task is to take a couple of prescriptions that have to be ingested into an empty stomach. Then I make my way to the nearby kitchen where I scoop a big plastic jar full of cheap cat chow from the 22-pound bag I keep by the refrigerator. (I keep it there mostly so that itís out of the road and I donít fall over it during the day.)

After grumpily greeting my indoor cats (Gracie, Georgie, Zander, and Miss Kitty) I work my way out to the big sliding glass doors that open on the patio area. And Iím being waited for there, although any given day I donít know whether my patient figure will be Patio Cat (a tuxedo with a sweet disposition) or Blackie (a coal-black cat with a combative personality).

The other two cats in the current tribe on the patio are much shyer of me, but I know they are around somewhere Ė Miss Perky Whiskers (another tuxedo) and my newest whom Iím calling ďFat BlackieĒ because he looks like Blackie might if he compulsively overate every day.

My first task is to fill each of two bowls to the brim with kibble. The Big Blue Bowl (which dates back to when we had 40-pound Keeshond dogs to feed in the kitchen) resides under an improvised shelter out on the patio, protected from rain and wind in the winter, sun and wind in the summer. The Bright Shiny Bowl (which is part of a set I bought years ago for indoor use but which like the Big Blue Bowl has the desirable asset of being virtually unbreakable) perches on the top step, under the eaves and next to the glass panel the door slides across, gives a backup for shy cats who might be easily bullied by either of the Blackies.

Kibble being provided, my next task is to wrestle a stiff and heavy garden hose over to the water basin I keep next to the bird feeder pole, dump the stale, soiled water from overnight, rinse, then fill with fresh, clear water for the dayís demands. Many critters depend on this basin (and in summer I provide two basins). Not just birds, although technically thatís why I keep it there. But also all the cats, the possums, the raccoon family that roams the entire block, the squirrels who live in the pine tree across the back fence, and who knows what else.

And if itís been dry weather, after the basin is refreshed I water all of the herd of potted plants I keep on the patio, some of them there for as long as ten or more years. Mostly flowers, but there are still some fennel and rosemary plants I keep for fragrance and for butterfly caterpillars.

Ordinarily then Iím back in the house and back to bed for at least a few more hours. But a couple of mornings a week itís time to refill the six bird feeders (seven in the summer when I also maintain a nectar feeder for hummingbirds).

In that case Iím out to the garage, where I pop the heavy lid off a big galvanized trash can and scoop a big pailful of sunflower seeds out of the open bag stored in there (to protect it from vermin). Then out on the patio again.

Each feeder (of varying age and condition) is a (commercial plug here) Droll Yankee tubular feeder from (oddly enough) Denver, Colorado. Droll Yankees are widely known as ďThe Worldís Best Bird FeederĒ, which is not an exaggeration. Theyíre expensive, but theyíre worth every penny, because they pretty much last forever. I keep six and havenít had to buy a new one in several years despite heavy and rough use. They are NOT squirrel-proof in the sense of keeping squirrels out, but they are squirrel-proof in the sense that squirrels do not destroy them (a fate suffered by just about every other feeder Iíve tried over the 50+ years Iíve been feeding birds).

They keep the seed dry and available and are simplicity to refill.

Lots of people feed a mix to their bird dependents, and thatís fine. But I donít care for the host of volunteer grasses and such that always grows under a feeder with generic feed contents, so I use straight black sunflower seeds. Everybody likes them (or at least all the seed eaters) and any volunteer plants are easy to pull up or can just be allowed to grow and flower. Which they often do.

If I donít fall down, it takes me about 5 to 10 minutes max to refill those six feeders (a couple of which hang from my house eaves and the other four from a tall metal pole at the edge of my patio). And then Iím good for 3-5 days of watching pleasure.

Besides the squirrels (30 generations of whom I have supported at this house alone) I reliably get northern cardinals, purple finches, English sparrows, chickadees, tufted titmice, whitewing doves, and bluejays. In season I get goldfinches, redwings, grackles, and a few local rarities like juncos and grosbeaks. And the crowd of birds makes other, non-seed-eating species feel comfortable coming around, like wrens, robins, and mockingbirds. For some occasional excitement, the bird crowd may also attract a hawk once in awhile. Thatís the risk you run when youíre a bird.

Possums and raccoons like to search the pile under the pole for seeds that have been missed, but their chief interest is the water basin and checking the kibble bowls for leftovers. Those bowls are always licked clean by dawn.

My obsession with birds and other critters can be a bit expensive; it definitely produces a messy patio; and it reliably interrupts my nightís sleep. But it keeps me connected with the natural world around me and constantly entertained and learning new stuff. And whatís the down side to that?

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