Two sparrows, one of them still sitting on a tree branch by my window, just met on the branch, petting each other with their beaks, their wings fluttering in apparent joy. Then the one flew off, the other fluttering his wings as if waving goodbye.
The bird flew back and began feeding the other, and I thought the one on the branch must be a baby. Because I long ago removed the curtains from my second floor study window, dramas like this play out daily on the leafy maple tree whose branches reach to within a few feet of my window. As I write this, the bird is still on the branch, and he seems to lose his feet for a second, then he recovers his balance. I can’t help but wonder if he’s injured.
Garden-variety animal dramas like this play out in front of me as I look out my window and work at my desk. Right now the little branch-bound bird is chirping, while nearby another sparrow chirps back at the little bird. They’re definitely communicating, though I have no idea what they’re saying. Probably, “Hang in there.”
It sometimes seems even the littlest things can be full of meaning. Or, maybe I’m just melodramatic, but I find it hard to ignore what I see and hear around me, because the coincidences sometimes can teach us.
I couldn’t help mentioning the sparrow, because he’s still seemingly marooned on that branch, just feet from my window. I’m hoping his kin will help him until he somehow makes it safely off that branch. Maybe I’m just naïve, but it doesn’t seem natural that he’s stuck there this long.
The little critter makes me think of Big Red, the grandest squirrel I’ve ever had the luck to see in action. This past winter, my wife Anne began to regularly put out wild birdseed and also peanuts in the shell on a patio and stone barbecue that’s in the back yard. She’d put out the food at least once, if not twice a day, and she developed quite a following. A whole herd of squirrels, a few cocksure chipmunks, and cardinals, blue jays, robins, starlings, sparrows, crows, and pigeons flocked to the backyard gravy train.
Among these multitudes was Big Red. He was an exceptionally large squirrel, with a reddish brown coat and tail, and a beautiful, rust-colored belly. Unlike the other squirrels, with their drab white bellies and brown coats, Big Red had won the luck of the genetic draw with his reddish-rust colored fur. He was much larger than the other squirrels, and they seemed to defer to him and move out of his way when he was grazing in the back yard. One of the smaller squirrels had more than a touch of Big Red’s rusty coloring, and we figured that one was Red’s child.
A couple months back I saw Big Red on the branch outside my window, where, thankfully, the sparrow no longer is perched. Despite Red’s prodigious size, he slowly traversed the seemingly too-thin branch, sure of himself as an old Walenda.
Then a while back, Anne and I realized that we hadn’t seen old Red in a while. We speculated about what might’ve become of him.
“They cut down a tree a couple yards up the other day. Maybe that was Red’s home. Maybe they had to relocate,” I said to Anne, as I watched a group of smaller, less-colorful squirrels munch on birdseed in the yard.
“I think there was a power struggle between the different groups of squirrels,” she said.
We both hoped aloud that Red hadn’t met his end.
Forgive me for what some of you may think is my indulgence—I have not bored you with the details of life in the trees outside my window before. But it appears that over the past few years, I may have bored readers with the seemingly trivial aspects of my daily life. I am reminded of this because of something a friend said a while back.
While Hilary Masters was introducing me to a group of folks at CMU before my reading a while back, my old professor said something telling that it took me a while to understand.
“He covers the ground he stands on,” Hilary said.
While he was introducing me I was flushed with embarrassment at being spoken of so kindly. Then later, after I wrote a piece that reflected back on my CMU reading, I sent him the piece for his reaction.
“You cover the ground you stand on,” he wrote.
I wrote back that it reminds me of something my grandpa used to say to me. When I did something well, or understood something, old ham-fisted Grampa would say: “You’re a man amongst men, lad.”
At first I was a little uncomfortable with Hilary’s way of describing my writing, which is probably why I made that wisecrack about Gramp. The phrase “covers the ground he stands on” reminded me of my old feelings about my weight. The ground I stand on and then some, I thought to myself. I cast a long, fat shadow, I thought.
I was a chunky kid growing up, and some of my siblings teased me mercilessly for it. I’m now a beefy adult, with a lot of the same insecurities that I had when I was young. So the phrase the ground he stands on just made me think of my girth, and I had to get used to it.
The more I consider the phrase, the more I think what Hilary said is exactly right. I do try to “cover” wherever I am. Maybe it’s an obsessive-compulsive need to report, but I’ve found stories all over. On vacation, I’ve reported on deaths at the beach and also international relations. In Seattle, I covered my own terribly draining “Terminal” experience. In the back yard, I report on the plants and animals. And from my desk, I provide eyewitness accounts of life out on a limb.