Fat Joy

The house I grew up in, and where my parents still live, had a big sticker-bush-tree just outside the sliding glass doors at the far end of the living room. The branches were so dense that in the wintertime it turned into a solid ball of snow and the ground below bare frozen dirt. Wrens and finches and chickadees and bushtits congregated in the bare spots and scraped their feet and pecked for food with that silly bird-dance of scrape-scrape-peck, scrape-scrape-peck. It never occurred to me to care what they were scraping and pecking for because my brothers and I were responsible for sustaining these wee ones in the wintertime.

Little birds love fat. Cold, congealed, ground up beef fat the butcher packaged and priced and called, for some obscure reason, suet. (Would the price suffer if we just called it fat?) Mom was in charge of buying the suet. My brothers and I removed a door off one of the kitchen cabinets, slid it under the base of the sticker-bush, and spread the suet across the door. You have to use wood because it retains heat and the snow melts off it sooner than any other material, and small bird feet will be warmer than if we put the suet on the ground. Sometimes we put down a piece of plywood from the garage but it was dirty with garage dirt and oil and it was better to put out a clean kitchen cabinet door.

We were barely back inside the house before the little winged creatures began hurtling themselves off their perches in one of the evergreen trees surrounding the yard and rocketing toward that bush. I don’t remember any of them being hurt in the process of fighting and pushing and shoving and eating that came after they all arrived but if there had been casualties it would have been a part of nature and acceptable.

* * *

Where I live now the calendar and weather reports from the frozen north are the only indications of winter, and what is the point of winter without snow, and frozen trees, and the joy of the little birds to whom I can make fat offerings?

The memory of joy this morning makes things here in the perpetual sun seem incomplete, and unsatisfactory.


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