Saturday, January 15, 2011


I can barely move today. My arms feel like two sacks of wet cement, my bad knee is throbbing and my back feels as if will snap in half if I so much as sneeze. Why? Because I spent all day yesterday shoveling snow.

Fortunately, we hire someone to plow our airport runway of a driveway, which costs the equivalent of a couple weeks’ worth of groceries, otherwise, I’d start shoveling in January and not finish until July. But the “etcetera” shoveling is still my job.

One part of the etcetera shoveling, for example, is a path out to my bird feeder, which happens to be about 35 feet from the back door. And once I reach the feeder, I also shovel an area underneath it so I can throw down some food for my ground feeders – two gigantic ravens, two mourning doves, four crows and 97,000 squawking blue jays.

Last night, however, when the wind was howling, the temperatures were Siberian, and I was curled up on the sofa, sipping hot tea while wrapped in my Snuggie, the thought of shoveling a path to the bird feeder was the farthest thing from my mind.

That is, until my husband spoke.

“Your poor birds must be really cold and hungry tonight,” he said. “I heard that they have to shiver to keep warm and it burns up thousands of calories, so they need to make sure they eat at least twice their weight in food every day to make up for it.”

“Well, they’re going to just have to shiver for a while longer,” I said, taking a sip of tea. “I’m staying right here on the sofa.”

He gave me a look that made me feel as if I’d just committed a crime worthy of the death sentence. “Think of all those poor, shivering creatures depending on you to feed them. How would you like to be in their shoes?”

“Birds don’t wear shoes,” I muttered.

“Well, I hope you can live with yourself when you go out there tomorrow and see a bunch of stiff little bird feet sticking up out of the snow.”

I tried to ignore his words, but as the night wore on, I felt more and more guilty. It wasn’t as if I’d spent the day idle. Not at all. I’d spent it doing some more “etcetera” shoveling in the form of a path to our underground propane tank, mainly because my contract with the propane company specified that I had to keep the area clear at all times or face a firing squad.

Unburying the tank was nearly impossible, however, because the guy who’d plowed our driveway pushed all of the snow into a towering six-foot banking directly in front of the only access to it. It took me over an hour just to make a dent in the snow bank.

At one point, I actually felt kind of scared. I was standing there shoveling, with a six-foot wall of snow on each side of me, and the thought suddenly occurred to me that if those walls caved in and buried me, my husband, who was napping, probably wouldn’t find me again until the spring thaw. And knowing him, that’s probably when he’d first start realizing I was missing.

During my quest to reach the gas tank, I made a horrifying discovery. My rock wall, my precious rock wall that I’d spent all summer constructing, rock by rock, inch by inch, had been destroyed by the plow truck, and now was just a bunch of loose rocks peppering the snow bank. Even worse, the bright orange poles I’d staked in front of the wall to protect if from the plow, were sticking out of the banking like porcupine quills.

I came inside feeling really upset, which was the precise reason why I didn’t want to hear the word “shoveling” again for at least another 20 years.

But there I was at 10 p.m., with icicles hanging from my nostrils and my teeth chattering like castanets, shoveling a path to the bird feeder.

The snow was so deep, the area I shoveled for the ground feeders looked as if it were 20 feet below sea level. The poor birds were going to have to dive into the pit to get their food.

When my red-faced, wet-clothed body finally returned to the warmth of the house, I said to my husband, “You’d think that for all of the effort I put into feeding the birds, I’d attract something really special out there, like a cardinal or a purple finch…or a peacock!”

“Or a partridge in a pear tree?” he asked, chuckling.

The next morning, when I looked out the window at the feeder, I had to laugh. All I could see were birds swan-diving into “the pit” and disappearing. Now and then, one would jump up and down and I’d see the top of its head, or it would fly up like a fish jumping out of the ocean.

“Look! There’s a cardinal!” my husband said, pointing.

As I ran back to the window, he said, “Aw, you won’t see him now. He’s in the pit.”

I’ve always wanted to see a bright red cardinal (somewhere other than on a Christmas card) so I waited for the bird to emerge, but it never did. Determined, I grabbed my coat and went out there to check the pit myself. About 25 squawking blue jays flew up at me. I nearly needed CPR.

I glanced at the kitchen window. I could see my husband standing there, laughing.

I think I should pour syrup on him, roll him in birdseed and tie him to the tree where the feeder is.

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