A lone bird in the crab-apple tree
By: Darrell Pendergrass, Superior Telegram
There was either a cedar waxwing in my yard the other day, or it may have been a female cardinal, I’m not sure; either way it was up in the little crab-apple tree down by our lower horse barn. It’s just across the yard from the front door of the house; it’s not that far.
I noticed this bird while I was out filling the water tank for the two gelding horses who reside in that barn. The boy horses have to be kept separate from the mares because of the bickering and arguing that ensues when they room together. It makes for more work to keep individual barns, but it’s just better this way.
I’d dragged the heavy water hose out of the basement, hooked it up to the faucet over by the well and pulled the hose over to the tank. The water splashed nosily. There’s a fat red squirrel that has been causing havoc in the garage this winter, and he’s managed to elude my eviction efforts so far; I took a swing down there to check on things while the tank filled. When I came around the corner closest to the house this bird caught my eye.
It was certainly an out-of-the-ordinary bird visitor for us. We don’t feed birds as we have enough other hungry mouths hanging around. It was puffed up a bit, the color a dull yellow and brown. It sported a distinctive crest on its head, and it bounced around on the limbs collecting the berries that had hug on since last autumn. I smiled at my luck. (My wife says it was probably a cedar waxwing — I’m still thinking it may have been a cardinal.)
We planted that crab apple tree more than 11 years ago, in memory of my mother who passed away about six months before my son was born. I think of Mom, Martha, when I see that tree. I like the tree; it brings me good memories. We sometimes laugh about it though, wondering whether my mother would say anything about having had a crab tree planted on her behalf. I’m sure she would have said something.
After my first glimpse of the mystery bird I silently walked up to the house and stuck my head in the door.
“I think there might be a girl cardinal in the Martha tree,” I called out calmly, making a guess.
My daughter, Grace, quietly stuck her head out and smiled. “I see it,” she said. “Cool.” Grace stood there for a minute or two.
Going down to the barn again to make sure the water tub didn’t overflow, I skirted around behind the garage, hoping not to disturb our feathery visitor and still thinking of that squirrel. From my vantage point on the corner I could see both the bird and the tub. It was the perfect spot.
As I said, the bird was working the tree for the last remaining berries, and it didn’t mind having an audience. In the world of birds it’s the male cardinal that gets all the glory, dressed in his formal red suit. A boy cardinal would really stand out in the winter, but there weren’t any around that I saw. Whatever this bird was, it was beautiful.
Up at the house my son Jack appeared at the door, binoculars to his face. It made me feel good to know that both my children would find the sighting of a bird in the yard more attention-grabbing than whatever was on television. He stood there looking for the longest time. I guess there’s hope for all of us.
Eventually the tub filled and I rolled up the hose and tucked it back inside. A few more looks at the bird and I had to move on to the next chore. She didn’t spook, and I kept an eye out for her over the next few days, but she hasn’t been around again as far as I can tell. She was here just the once.
You don’t always see the things that are right in front of you; children grow up, parents pass away, crab apple trees get bigger, and special birds pay only an occasional visit. Then they’re gone. Every once in a while we need to pay attention to the things that matter.
Often times, one look is all you get.
Darrell Pendergrass, of Grand View, is a Wisconsin Newspaper Association outdoor writing award winner. Read more of his work at outtherewithdarrell.blogspot.com.