The One That Got Away
by LeAnn R. Ralph
Rural Route 2/Christmas in Dairyland
For years I have been listening to those commercials advising me to get my precious "Kodak moments" on film. And they always make it look so easy too.
Well, all right then, if it's so easy, why haven't I been more successful? It's certainly not because I don't have opportunities. In fact, I had a wonderful opportunity one winter day a few years ago.
Throughout the night it had been snowing here in rural west central Wisconsin, and although I knew my bird feeders were almost empty and it's part of my routine to fill them first thing in the morning, I decided to wait until the snow had stopped. The cardinals, chickadees, juncoes, blue jays, pine siskins, goldfinches, chipping sparrows, nuthatches, hairy woodpeckers—and the occasional downy woodpecker—wouldn't want mushy sunflower seeds. And besides, they still had a little bit left.
By the time it quit snowing, and I had shoveled all the paths and had cleared the driveway, the bird feeders were completely empty. I quickly filled a bucket with sunflower seeds and a songbird mixture flavored with cherry juice, and then I started on my rounds.
The first stop, since it is closest to our walk-out basement, was the cedar tree my father and I had found growing wild on our farm nearly thirty years ago. We had dug it up and transplanted it at the house my parents had built when they retired from farming. Mom and Dad are both gone now, but the cedar tree lives on.
As I began to scoop bird seed into the feeder, I heard a chickadee right above my head. The little guy was perched on a snowy branch studded with blue juniper berries, watching my movements with bright, alert eyes. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee—chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee, he said.
It sounded like he was scolding me.
"Yes, yes," I replied, "I know you're hungry. Just wait a minute, will you?"
When I dumped the second scoop into the feeder, I suddenly remembered something an elderly neighbor had once told me about feeding chickadees. I set the bucket down, put a few sunflower seeds in the palm of my glove and propped my arm on a low-hanging branch. About a minute later, I almost fell over from the shock when the chickadee flitted down, perched on my finger and took a sunflower seed. He flew up to his branch, ate the seed, and then came back for another one.
After the fifth sunflower seed, I still couldn’t quite believe it. I figured my husband, Randy, would have trouble believing it too, but I wanted to tell him, anyway. I raced around to the back of the house and threw open the door.
"Randy! Come here!" I shouted.
My husband almost overturned his chair in his haste to get up. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing. Put your coat on. You've gotta see this."
Randy worked nights, so he had been sleeping all day. For him, late afternoon was like everybody else’s early morning. In a few minutes he came outside. "It's not very warm out here," he muttered. "What is it I 'have to see?'"
"This," I said, walking down the shoveled path toward the cedar tree.
In the meantime, several more chickadees had joined the first one. I put some seeds in my hand and propped my arm on a branch.
"What ARE you doing?"
"Watch," I said.
And sure enough, in a little while a chickadee landed on my glove, took a sunflower seed and flitted back to his branch to eat it.
Randy's mouth popped open in surprise.
"Let me try that," he said.
Soon the chickadees were taking sunflower seeds from Randy's hand as well.
Then we decided to try it without our gloves. Didn't matter to the chickadees. Their wire-thin feet clasped our bare fingers just as easily as they had gripped our gloves.
After that, Randy tried putting some sunflower seeds on the bill of his cap. At first the chickadees seemed perplexed by the situation, but finally one brave little soul tried it. Hooking his tiny feet around the brim, he took a sunflower seed and flew off. Once the others saw their leader had come to no harm, they decided to give it a try. The best part came, however, when Randy put some seeds on top of his cap. I never in my wildest imagination thought I would see my husband with a chickadee sitting on top of his head.
"Quick," Randy murmured, barely moving his lips, "get the camera."
I inched around the corner and zipped into the house.
"Where is it?" he whispered when I came back outside a few minutes later.
"Ummm…ahhh…well…we're out of film."
If Randy hadn't had a chickadee perched on his head, I'm sure his reaction would have been more forceful.
"Oh, sure," he hissed, "here I am with a chickadee sitting on top of my head and we don't have any film?"
So, the next day I went to town and bought several rolls. Then we tried every trick we could think of to coax the chickadees into sitting on Randy's head again. Nope. Nothing doing. Absolutely not. They wouldn’t even come within ten feet of us.
And here it always looks so easy in those commercials. Just load your camera, point, and shoot, they say.
LeAnn R. Ralph is the author of the book: Christmas in Dairyland (True Stories from a Wisconsin Farm) (trade paperback; August 2003). Her next book, Give Me a Home Where the Dairy Cows Roam, will be available later in 2004. Share the view from Rural Route 2 —
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