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Looking out my Backdoor: All my noisy neighbors

First things first. Our Baby Marley is home. She is home, ready for the hard work of getting healthy and growing and looking at everything around her with those big eyes. We are so grateful. And we are so grateful for all the friends and strangers who cared, who in small ways took our baby in their arms and into their hearts and helped her heal. Thank you.

That dog of mine has put me into the habit of greeting the rising sun on our first walk of the day. Believe me, before Lola came to live with me, I did not leave the house at first light.

I’ve no problem anthropomorphizing non-humans around me. This morning, in my meditations, the birds, in all their great variety, inhabiting the wide-spreading trees, took on characteristics of people living in high-rise condominiums, maybe without quite as much fuss as we humans.

Kiskadees prefer the upper floors, the penthouse suites, noses high in the air, a bit above the rest of us, more colorful, louder in their opinions. Let me tell you, those kiskadees, they are loud! And insistent that you hear their opinions. Over and over and over. They would be great radio personalities, you know the kind, ones who host phone-in talk shows.

Tanagers and palomas seem to furnish the middle units quite happily. These characters are softer voiced, more musical, more space between their words.

Rainbirds like to hang out, separate but connected. They are private types, tend to listen before they sound off. (I’m making this up, of course, you know that.)

Partridge doves and warblers nest in every limb of the lower units. These inhabitants of the numerous condos, apartments and high-rises around us, provide the background music of life, always there, always singing.

Of course, this is my own silliness, a silliness that sprang from thinking about how much the birds need the trees and the trees need the birds. That’s what I think, at any rate. And we, or I, need the trees and the birds.

When I leave the house in the morning I walk beneath a ring of trees, full of birds singing the sun up. If the birds go silent, I look around to see what and why. They pay no attention to me. This morning I saw a hawk, a rare sight.

Vultures are always circling the air currents. Vultures don’t live in our ring of trees but they have habitations in a particular group of trees in town. The birds give no mind to the vultures, knowing they are looking for riper prey. Once my birds deemed the hawk of no danger to them, they resumed song.

But is it song? Maybe they are arguing. My nest is better than your nest. What about that slovenly bird-brain on branch 23? Birds of that feather shouldn’t be allowed to live among we-are-better-than-thems. Deport that bunch back to Missouri. Take away their visas. Those lower-caste birds on the bottom tiers, can’t we boot them to the slums? They are surely nothing but troublemakers.

In my world, silly or not, I’ll call bird voices song. Or prayer. Or blessing.

This morning I noticed a flock of yellow tanagers. I love the tanagers. (The Western tanager is red-orange, a glory of feather-dress, and likes to hang out in the bottlebrush.) These yellow tanagers, or they might be orioles, were riding the air to the height of the tallest pines. We have a type of pine tree that tends to loom above the spreading-branches trees.

The tanagers this morning perched on outside branches of the pine tree above Julie’s house, arranged themselves as if they were Christmas decorations. The sight so delightful, I had to stop in my tracks with admiration for so long that Lola, who’d pranced ahead of me, came back to see why I had not followed her back to our house.

I’ve come to believe, personal experience, youth is wasted on the young. When I grew up on my Dad’s farm on the Milk River, my get-away place was a cottonwood tree, trunk and branches leaning over the water. I’d climb that tree to sing, to cry, to celebrate, to sulk, to dream, to tell God of my understanding back then, what I wanted and how I thought my life should go. Amen.

I remember the texture of the cottonwood bark beneath my fingers, the solid branches holding me in the air, the mottled shadows of sunlight through the leaves, the tortured twigs of winter. But, I don’t remember the birds. I know there were birds. There had to be birds.

Where were the birds?

Where was I?


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at Email [email protected].


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