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Hawthorn Hill

March 7, 2013

Winter tree sparrow visitations have been rare on the hill


A few days ago I observed a sparrow lazing about the feeder base. Actually, it is a good spot to set up shop since chickadees and other birds can be sloppy at times, discarding or flushing out seed that does not meet their immediate or dietary requirments. I would like to think he was ruminating on important philosophical concerns, perhaps on the nature of the good or the constituent elements of properly meted out justice. I turned away for a moment to record an observation on my data sheet. When I looked back I saw a chickadee sitting a few inches away from the sparrow. Neither moved. They seemed content to stare at one another as if at that moment there were no greater pleasure to be had. As one who believes there is too much chatter anyway, this seemed to me a perfect way of getting on with one another. No pressure to be witty or constrained to show off one’s intellect.

A writer I read some years ago remarked that she always aimed to get beyond intellect, to get to that place where pure and honest thought trumped intellectuality. In his autobiography, Bertrand Russell writes that there are few things more tedious than the conversation of well-informed people. I am very much like tree sparrows. I prefer sitting quietly, even in company, listening and mulling things over in my mind without feeling as if I need to toss in my two cents. Most of the time I feel as if two cents is pushing it. At any rate, the chickadee cut this little séance short in roughly 30 seconds. I like thinking that the three of us came away with something modestly profound to chew over later on. I know I did.

Winter tree sparrow visitations have been rare up here on the hill. By my reckoning five have taken up residence with us. Individual feeder sittings aside, I love watching as one clamps on to one of the suet feeders, especially on windy days, pecks out a morsel, sits a bit, perhaps feeling quite impressed by his skills and then gets down to the business of fueling up again. Once this week, a female Downy woodpecker alighted atop the suet cage. The sparrow stood its ground, stared right into the little woodpecker’s eyes, and she beat a hasty retreat to the nearby maple from whence she had come. She returned only when the sparrow saw fit to head for the hills.

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