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June 30, 2022

Cool Loneliness in the Company of the Birds

The morning is cool, the breezes soothe my spirit. Steel gray clouds calm my soul. Searing heat from the incessant sunshine these past several days have been punitive and harsh.

I’m thoroughly grateful for a respite.

The day ahead encompasses a fifty-mile trip to Denver down on the plains, an essential venture out that will unfortunately take me away from these soothing clouds.

Maybe the clouds will travel with me, as in a Lil’ Abner cartoon.

And yet, I look forward to leaving this mountain valley above Boulder. The isolation can pierce my mind with a different kind of punitive effect. A little socialization is a healthy thing.

Still yet, goes the mind, this time of year is cherished for the brevity of beauty and healing it brings. The avian population has migrated here for their seasonal activities of food and reproducing more of their kind. They time it thusly, an important survival factor that’s changing due to our warming climate.

Yesterday afternoon, a young female Tanager visited the flagstone bench for seeds and nuts. The Western Oriole perched in the Ponderosa Pine belting out a melodious tune, like an opera singer appearing on stage for a special performance. Fledgling Cliff and Barn Swallows soar across the pasture, testing out fresh wings like a new pair of gym shoes.

My husband, Frank, can barely keep up with feeding the flock of fifty Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at our porch feeders. This past Sunday, I heard the rapid whir of the Rufous Hummingbird. A latecomer, always, to our feeders, his appearance is as reliable as, well, what used to be fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Each day, the flock of fifty hummingbirds take down a gallon of syrup. Our kitchen in the summertime is cluttered with pitchers, containers and feeders. Constantly, I’m wiping down sticky counters.

Then, there’s the Robin, washing dirt-coated worms freshly plucked from the earth in the bird fountain. We clean it regularly to unclog the pump. All the birds – Pine Siskins, Juncos, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Goldfinches, Jays and Woodpeckers – visit the fountains this time of year.

Their company is a blessing.

Living in this mountain valley alone, I never felt lonely. Sure, there was the cool loneliness that Pema Chodron writes of, that sense that you’re without human touch or companionship. But rarely, except for the stinging painful moments as I moved through suffering from divorce, grief, and innumerable breakups, was it what she referred to as hot loneliness, that searing pain so all-consuming, that your mind contemplated fantasies of a darker nature.

A plethora of birds, from the morning greeting of Steller’s Jays asking for peanuts from the branches of the pines, to the mating calls in the springtime of the Black-capped Chickadees, were soothing avian whispers, that life was still all around me.

It was mine for the noticing. As I walked these valley trails in the company of my rescue dogs, the American Dipper bobbed up and down on a boulder in the creek like I used to dance at the early age of two to Grand Funk Railroad or Bad Company. I wondered what tune he was hearing, a message sent straight from celestial beings, that I wanted to hear for myself. If I tuned my ear to the same cloud he was under, I could hear faint traces of joy and light.

These days, in my married life with Frank, the birds still join me here. I have his help to feed and water them, and even more are flocking to our feeders. Berry counts and wildflower pollen feel less, owing to climate change. Supplementing their diet feels a small giveback to them.

I imagine if I lived in an apartment on the plains, I’d hang a porch feeder just outside my bedroom window to discourage crashes into the glass, a practice I’ve learned from my good friend at Animal Help Now, teaching how to better coexist with our avian friends. I’d insist on a small water fountain alongside, if only to mimic the greater experience I’m blessed to enjoy here. Birds crave water to regulate body temperatures in the winter months, and a small heater keeps it flowing.

Not to mention, the soothing water in the stillness of winter, is a balm to my spirit.

As I prepare for departure this morning to travel fifty miles away, I think of all the carbon dioxide I’ll pump out into the atmosphere that will contribute to our warming climate. I try to leave this mountain valley only twice a week, choosing the simplicity of a less material existence and working from my barn office in which I once lived.

But sometimes, I just have to get out and get more suet, seed and sugar, to keep those fifty hummingbirds and their friends, well-fed and reproducing.

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