Learning To Fly (My Pilgram at Tinker Creek Moment)

A few mornings ago while I was enjoying my coffee, making my to-do list for the day, I heard this loud screeching and tweeting. I knew what this was immediately. I wouldn't say I'm an Annie Dillard (though I aspire to such greatness)--I do consider myself a little more "appreciative" and "curious" about the natural world than most. Okay, and a bit afraid of it, too. As an undergrad, I took a course entitled: Women And Nature Writing--not that taking this class made me an expert on "nature"--though I think probably a little more than most--I still consider observing all things in nature one of life's greatest pleasures. This class was not concerned with Walden Pond musings. Just the girls on nature: Rachel Carson, Terry Tempest Williams, Louise Erdrich. Loved this class. Loved it.

Anyway, the baby cardinal chicks had hatched: they'd flown the coop, hit the road, moved on. All grown up--ready to fly. I peeked out through the blinds to see three baby birds all hopping about on the concrete walkway, mother cardinal and daddy cardinal in hysterics because clearly, these little kids were not nearly as ready to fly as these baby chicks thought they were. I was a little hysteric myself after seeing this. I knew--hawks were looking for breakfast, as were chipmunks. Yes, I said chipmunks. (*If you are a die hard lover of Alvin and his gang of chipmunks, this post is not for you.) 

There are more cardinals in my yard than seems possible. All through winter, their bright red coats stand out against the stark, brown backdrop of winter. They're beautiful and vibrant. I feed the yard-visiting birds year-round. They tend to get very loud if the feeder(s) are low. Some of the birds don't even fly away as I approach, just sit nearby as I re-fill food stuffs, then dive in for first dibs as I wander back inside. I counted two cardinal nests in the yard recently. I am positive there are more because I could hear baby "chirps" from both the front and back yard. 

I grabbed my camera. I sat cross-legged on the sidewalk. Careful not to stir. Zoom focus on. Ready. Then the chicks began to hop all over the place--certainly they'd seen me popping in and out all over the yard. But seeing me from the safety of the nest was one thing, having me right there in the midst of their "driving lessons" was another. I waited and watched. Careful to not move, nor get too close, I watched in amazement as both the mama cardinal and papa cardinal were flying here and there--trying to give food and guidance to these "three amigos".

This is papa cardinal. Hovering closer than mama. He seemed brave to me.
They landed together. The mom cardinal looking intently over her brood flopping here and there--wondering what in the world she'd gotten herself into, I'm sure. Or, perhaps thinking: What a bunch of numbskulls I've hatched--they'll get eaten alive! Well. She wasn't too far off on her prediction. And as my DH reminded me later as I was in tears over the morning's goings on, "It's Mother Nature and the natural order of things. Sometimes the gene pool is good--and you'll have really smart offspring, sometimes, not so much and bad things happen." Okay Darwin. This did nothing to calm me down. I came back inside to look at the photos I had gotten. I knew the babies would soon figure out how to take flight and that life for them would now begin. Mama and papa cardinal would watch over them and show them where to get food in the meantime.

About an hour later, I  headed back out to work on the veggie patch. Then, I wandered over to a spot where I have my seedlings still sitting on concrete blocks, only to discover a chipmunk staring at me. Hmmm. What gives? Seemed suspicious to have this little guy not scurry away like they usually do when they see me. But he was sitting right next to my seedlings I needed to water, so I heaved the hose up and began watering--he disappeared--under one of my concrete blocks. Then I spotted something nestled between the seedlings. OMG! I jumped back. I looked again. I could not believe what I saw. Was that a BABY cardinal?! Limp? I looked again, but not closely, because at this point, in my gut, I knew what I'd just seen. Had one of those bastard chipmunks just turned one of these baby birds into breakfast?! Do chipmunks eat birds?! I thought they ate plants, and worms, or maybe a few bugs, BUT an entire baby bird? No way. Oh, yes way. I ran back inside to the computer and looked up "chipmunk: carnivore or herbivore?" Ugh. The answer confirmed my suspicion. I debated my next move. I couldn't possibly go near the tomato seedlings until Dr. Thyme came home to help rescue what remained of the baby bird, or until the inevitable happened. Which was too horrible for me to dwell on for very long. So I just went back inside. Sad. Very sad. And quite honestly, a bit mad, too. Those cute little furry, Christmas song-singing rodents had just made a meal out of one of MY babies. I have declared war on chipmunks. But what am I going to do--trap them? Poison them? Shoo them away when I see them? Obviously, I was helpless. There's not a dang thing I can do but sit back in horror and watch Mother Nature and all her glory march on. When Dr.Thyme got home, I went back out--wanted to point out where the baby bird was--and have him properly dispose of it. And. . . it was gone. Just gone. Bad chipmunks. Very bad.
On a lighter note and happier ending--this was my first peony. I couldn't resist getting my camera . . . again. This time for something a little less macabre. Yesterday, I spotted one of the young cardinals, now larger, but still gray in color--not red quite yet, landed on the fence--right outside the window. It's the little things in life.
A drop of sweet peony sap.


  1. Okay, now I hate chipmunks! lol
    The peony is beautiful. I would love to grow some but I've never seen them at the nursery. Maybe they don't do well in SoCal. I will have to check on that.

  2. Oh bummer...what a great post though. You have such a way of capturing the wonders of nature! Thank you for sharing with me tonight...I'm sorry I've been gone so long! Your blog continues to bring a smile to my face. I hope you have a blessed Sunday!

  3. You have no idea how homesick you made me this morning...cardinals and peonies!!! I'm a Hoosier living in Oregon where we have no cardinals or fireflies! Thank you, however, for providing beautiful photos of these birds that are so dear to my heart.


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