Sunday, July 24, 2016

THE GRACKLES ARE COMING

Our tree before it became a mob scene
A little downy woodpecker used to hop down the tree trunk in front of our terrace. He was on his way to a log of birdseed which we'd hung on a branch. It was specifically intended for birds like him, because it included hot peppers.  Squirrels don't like hot peppers but evidently birds can't taste them.

Our woodpecker had a system. He'd hop down quite deliberately and then when he could see the birdseed, he'd cock his head prettily before alighting on the feeder.  Cardinals and other small birds also visited frequently.  But the larger greedier birds couldn't get a grip on this bird feeder - and we liked it that way.

Then I was somehow convinced by the kind woman at For the Birds in McLean that I should buy a different bird feeder - with a grill and a stand that woodpeckers would be able to land on more comfortably.  I could also purchase a whole crate of bird seed cakes in one go. It would be cheaper and much more efficient.
friend or foe?

The unfortunate result was a mob scene. The whole bird feeder was flocked with noisy birds which before I hadn't noticed. At first I thought they were starlings but after a quick internet search I realized they were grackles.  Grackles are considered to be pests by farmers because not only do they flock but they fight and squawk and can destroy a crop in a matter of days.  In our case, they left droppings all over the patio furniture. I had created a monster!

So I took the bird feeder down, returned the bird seed cakes to the shop in Mclean and bought another roll of hot pepper bird seed - the one that only little birds can alight on. "Grackles are a pain," said the woman in the bird store.  "If you can figure out how to keep the grackles away from your feeders, we can make a lot of money." She told me her friends made fun of her sometimes - because she puts out seed to encourage the birds and ends up shooing them away.

I learned that neighborhoods can change, depending on what is there to attract them. I've also realized lately that there is another neighborhood emerging in the human population, with huge houses taking the place of large wooded lots.  Across the street they've just finished cutting down all the trees and shrubs, so they can lay an enormous foundation for a five bedroom, multiple bathroom house.

One street over, where I often walk the dogs, there are three empty houses side by side. One that used to belong to our neighbor Ted is slated for demolition. When Ted was younger, he walked his dog around the block and often stopped to chat.  But when his dog died, we didn't see as much of him - unless it was when he stepped out of his back door to throw peanuts for the squirrels.  A few months back, I routinely saw him making his way down the front path and holding a long stick with pincers on the end. He used the pincers to pick up his newspaper.  Then he made his ponderous way back and closed the door.  Ted passed away this spring and his house is now empty with a big developers sign in the front.

very old fashioned, but this was Ted's home

So the other morning, when I was walking the dogs, I decided to take a peak into Ted's garden. It felt a little intrusive, but also harmless - like visiting a secret garden from the past. After all, how many visitors will this garden have before it is no more?  Just outside Ted's sun room on the concrete porch, I saw a table with his old glass ashtray.  This must have been where he did his day dreaming.

In the back there's an enormous silver maple, also a brick path wending its way to a birdbath.  It's a path to nowhere, beautiful because it is something to follow with your eye, into the trees, across the grass. It is redolent with the past and with imagination.
Ted's tree and his path to nowhere

The house directly next door to us is also empty and it too will soon be torn down.  Sometimes I go into their back garden, just to pay tribute to someone else's dreams.  Because this is what a home used to look like, with plenty of room to dream.
These trees will soon be gone
Nowadays, people's dreams seem very different. And when developers dream, it starts off looking like this.

construction site across the road




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