Retirement is still strange to me. If I am home, it must mean I am off duty, yes? But then when am I ON duty, if I'm home all the time? And what about this or that task? What about that article I said I'd write?
Cooking supper, for instance, was something I used to look forward to all day at work: a lovely meal on the porch, carefully prepared, the payoff for a day's work. Every night we could dine together at home was a little festive, because it didn't happen every night. Now it IS every night, but it has yet to become routine. In fact, it feels like a nonstop party. That's what it is, I guess: a bird party.
The humans' table: the plates, the goblets, the napkins, the water pitcher, the bottle of wine, the little crystal bowl of water in which the plums for dessert await their juicy end. And beyond the porch railing, the birds' domain: the pine trees in which they hide, the dogwood in which we believe the hummingbird nests, the prehistoric magnolia tree with its surreal, waxy blooms. Feeders hang here and there, strategically placed, different ones to attract different birds.
The cardinals are ground feeders, but they will also patronize a hanging tray, as will almost everyone else if that's all there is. Me, I like to tailor the dining experience to the bird. The woodpeckers love their suet block, which hangs in a wire cage so the squirrels won't get it all. Other birds covet the suet, too: the blue jays, for instance, a party of four that has taken to visiting every night. But jays aren't built well for the woodpecker blocks -- where a woodpecker can hang upside down forever and eat himself silly, a jay can't, and so must flutter madly in order to stay upright while he pecks at the delicious suet he craves. The fat rock doves have the same problem, a deep longing for suet in a body ill-suited to the feeder containing it. That's okay. There's plenty of seed in the tray, guys. Just eat that.
The goldfinches like to feed upside down. So well-known is this predilection among them that on one of my finch feeders all the seed openings are positioned below the perches, so that upside down is the only way they can get anything. And throughout the garden the hummingbirds come and go, from one feeder to the next. I usually have four or five feeders out, just for the hummers.
7pm is the usual beginning of the bird party -- the most direct rays of sunlight have slanted into something gentler, and the temperature has dropped a bit. The table conversation consists mainly of alerting each other to arrivals and departures.
"Goldfinch on the yellow feeder."
"Hummer on the little dead tree."
"His Eminence on the tray." Note: His Eminence is the male cardinal. His mate is named Mrs. Cardinal.
"Hummer on the planter."
"Woodpecker on the suet block. Downy." Most of our woodpeckers are Downy or Hairy. Some are Yellow-Bellied. Those are neither accolades or insults -- they are just types of woodpecker. Besides this commentary, we speculate on what their lives might be like, how many calories they consume in a day, why different kinds of birds do the different kinds of things they do, whether or not birds used to be dinosaurs. As darkness overtakes the garden, Q retreats to the glow of public television, and I am alone.
Something like sadness settles over me. I don't want the day to end. I want the twilight to go on and on. I want the birds not to go to sleep. I want forever to be a summer evening. I want the tree branches always to stay black against the silvering sky. I want the cicadas' chorus never to end. I hold very still as the shadows deepen, willing time to be still as well. But the day slips away like all the other days. I stay out there until it is too dark to see.