Learning Like Cardinals

Mr. and Mrs. C, from March 2017

When I moved into this house, I stuck a long metal pole in the ground outside the kitchen window, and hung a bird feeder on a hook at the end of it. I had every intention of keeping it full, but that didn’t work out so well. Mostly for the birds.

Earlier this year, that feeder finally fell apart from years of being in the rain, snow, and sun. So I bought a new one, and told myself that this time, I would keep this one full, without exception.

I brought it home, and filled it up with birdseed and some old pecans and almond slivers because I think Cardinals like that stuff. Soon a gang of sparrows started showing up, and not long after that, a pair of Cardinals. But then I discovered I had another problem.

The new bird feeder had a very narrow ledge. The sparrows could land on it, and still get to the birdseed. But the Cardinals would have to practically land sideways on the thing, and couldn’t reach the birdseed because they were sitting too close to it. I pointed this problem out to Marcus, who thought about it and then took the bird feeder to the shop. It came back with some Mercedes parts and two pieces of a wooden dowel added on. Voila! Perches that sat several inches away from the birdseed. The feeder was now Cardinal friendly. And they came back and have been very happy ever since.

I make every effort to keep the feeder full of tasty birdseed for anyone who wants to show up. So far we’ve had sparrows, the occasional finch, wrens, even a few catbirds have done a quick flyby. But the cutest visitors are Mr. and Mrs. C. Did you know Cardinals mate for life? Curious behavior, if you ask me.

A few weeks ago, Mr. C started bringing Junior with him. Junior is an awkward teenage Cardinal. Kind of gangly, a little unsure of his footing. He makes the trip to the feeder, but stays on the fence or on the ground, fluttering his wings and squeaking incessantly, waiting for Dad to bring him something good.

The young bird is old enough to fly to the feeder, and he’s even tried to land on the metal pole, and the bush next to the feeder. But he hasn’t yet figured out how to land on the feeder itself and scoop all the unwanted seeds onto the ground in search for sunflower seeds or pecans. He still waits for Dad to take care of that part.

Some days, I feel like Junior. There are people in my life, or things that happen, that lead me right up to that metaphorical bird feeder, but I can’t quite figure out how to make the jump onto the perch and get to the good stuff.

This also brings to mind that old proverb about leading a horse to water. But I don’t have horses in my yard so you get the bird version.

I’m grateful that I’ve had good teachers and good role models throughout my life, and I’ve come across great things to read and do and see. But sometimes it feels like there’s still a huge disconnect between intellectually understanding how something works, and the actual doing of it, or the actual feeling of it. It’s like feeling smart and stupid at the same time. Or being in a state of perpetual awkward teenage-dom.

How will Junior Cardinal make that leap, that physical and proverbial leap, onto the feeder and become totally self-sufficient? What light switch needs to be flipped before he gets it? Is it learned behavior? Instinct? Intuition? Does he just watch Dad enough times to eventually understand he needs to just take one more jump from the fence to the feeder, and freedom is finally his? I don’t think he’ll “understand” it until he “experiences” it.

What will it take for me to make that leap, for me to get that I am a fully capable human being, and that I can accomplish great things? Or at the very least, that I can take care of my own body, all my stuff and my wonderful, (often over-active) mind?

I don’t know where Mrs. C has been. Maybe she took a much needed girls trip to the seaside.

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