Tag Archives: Bird

Nadine

There was a chilly mist in the March air, but I love my early morning walks and this gray gloom wasn’t going to keep me from today’s. I stopped midway on a bridge over the creek to watch a pair of mallards silently pick and poke along the muddy bank. Nothing could ruin this perfect serenity.

“Hey!” the shrill voice called. “Beautiful, right?” The spry old woman pointed towards the ducks as she marched enthusiastically onto the bridge to stand beside me. She twirled her arms in several rapid circles, stretched her back, then leaned on the railing and began doing standing push-ups. Dressed in sweat pants and jacket, baseball cap and sneakers, she had all the markings of devoted walker.

“Hi.” I said tentatively, unsure of what was happening.

“You’re from the South, aren’t you? Hiiiii. That’s how you said it. Hiiiii.” She spoke with her back to me as she stretched her calves. “I’m betting from the South. Keep talking until I say stop and I’ll know if I’m right, but I bet from the South?”

“Yes Ma’am.” I answered.

Her head whirled around towards me.

“No need to say more.” She laughed and raised her arms over her head to bend from side to side, counting slowly to herself. “Hiiiii” She said again. “I won’t forget that!”

She stood straight and adjusted her cap. “I’m from Wisconsin.”

Introductions seemed in order. “My name is Stuart and…”.

“Oh, I won’t remember your name.” She stopped me. “But I won’t ever forget what you said.”

A quick set of jumping jacks, a couple of leg kicks, and she stopped to stretch again. “Walk much?” She asked as she jogged in place.

“Most days. And I always see something interesting.” I nodded towards the two ducks now swimming in the creek.

“Love them.” She said. “I see a lot of birds out here.”

The old woman told me about her own morning walks and rituals. Each day she got up and tried to find ways to keep herself busy. She retired thirty years ago, bought a home in the area, but now at age ninety-three had watched all her friends “move away or pass away”.  She looked down at the creek.

“Old age was ok for the first twenty years!” She giggled slightly. “I used to wonder what the point was because nothing new ever happened.”

“I understand.” I said in my most empathetic tone. “I’m fifty-six and getting older can be rough.” I awaited her sympathy.

“Fifty-six?” She adjusted her cap again. “Why, you’re just a little squirt!”

Forced to defend my comment I agreed with her that I wasn’t elderly, but she herself said the older she got the more she wondered why. She couldn’t see the point.

“I said I used to wonder.” She corrected.

“But it dawned on me.” She continued. “I can walk and move and see and enjoy. I shouldn’t start the day just waiting for good things to come and find me. That’s the wrong approach.”

She took off her jacket. I held it as she finished a final set of standing push-ups.

“It’s like this.” She took back her jacket and stared me in the face. “I woke up this morning and that’s more than some people did. The rest is up to me.”

At ninety-three years of age this little whirlwind of a woman had the perfect attitude. I was impressed at the start by her jumping jacks and push-ups, but now she had captivated me with her words. I wanted to hear more. I listened for the next nugget of advice but she clearly had places to go. She put her jacket back on and zipped it up.

“My name is Nadine and…”

“Oh, I won’t remember your name.” I smiled as I interrupted. “But I won’t ever forget what you said.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Eagle Eyes

“And class don’t forget, tomorrow we scratch!” Miss Martin struggled to be heard over the deafening combination of dismissal bell and scuffling feet.

Earlier that week, each of us in my seventh-grade art class had prepared scratchboards by brushing layers of India ink onto 8.5 x 11 inch sections of art board. Once dried, our assignment would be to create something for the school art contest. The technique, a new one for us, involved scratching away dried ink to reveal the white board beneath until the desired image was formed. The individual subject matter would be up to us, but the overall theme was “nature”. Miss Martin would choose just one piece from our class to be entered in the contest.

The next day, Miss Martin handed each of us a scratchboard and a small metal tool to be used for removing the ink. Over the course of the next few classes we worked diligently on our middle school masterpieces. I decided to scratch a bald eagle into the dried layer of black on my board.

To my left, Sylvia etched away at several clouds. To my right, Todd scraped the outline of a tree. I leaned forward to look over Rob’s shoulder and saw the huge head of a snake taking shape.

I sat back to begin my eagle.

Still a bird lover today, my interest began long before that art class. I found myself lost in the assignment, enjoying the process, and proud of tiny details I put into the work. Sharp talons, well-shaped wings, perfect facial features. I was downright proud of myself. By the time the final class session began I had produced what I considered the perfect bald eagle. His stature regal, his form sublime, and his face magnificent.

“Buddy.” Rob said as he looked back over his shoulder at my artwork. “You got eyelashes on him.”

“Yeah” I responded. His remark seemed silly.

He looked down at my board again, then back at me. “I’m putting some on my snake?” He said as if asking permission.

“You can put curlers in his hair if you want. It’s your snake after all.” I responded.

Rob began feverishly scratching out what promised to be very impressive snake eyelashes.

Miss Martin took a lap around the classroom to give each of us a few mid-work critiques. She stopped at my desk and I held my already completed art board in the air, awaiting her praise. She touched her fingers to her chin as she studied my effort.

“Your eagle has eyelashes?” She asked in a tone that clearly indicated disapproval.

Rob began feverishly scratching over what had promised to be very impressive snake eyelashes.

Was she expecting an answer? Of course it did. All birds have eyelashes. I kept waiting for praise.

“Have you ever seen a bird up close?” She continued her inane questioning.

Had I ever seen a bird up close? Irritated she hadn’t instantly pegged me as the next John James Audubon at the mere sight of my inky eagle, I thought about what to say. I felt highly offended. I mean really. Had I ever seen a bird up close?

Before school that morning I fed my parakeets. I also had two zebra finches in my room. There were always chickens around home. Ours was the house where people dropped off orphaned nestlings to be cared for and we currently had a baby robin in the house. I owned a little incubator and had recently hatched quail and they lived in a pen out back. I had even raised baby turkeys because I’d heard they could be a challenge. They were not. I knew my birds.

“Well?” Miss Martin asked again. “Have you ever seen a bird up close?”

Incensed, indignant, and full of teenage hormones I looked her in the face and said all I knew to say. I even stood to say it.

“Lady, just how stupid do you think I am?”

I sure was hungry that night, having to go to bed with no dinner.

Class the next day lasted an eternity. My palms sweated as Miss Martin casually lectured on pottery wheels. She seemed to have forgotten yesterday’s unfortunate incident. I’d been given strict instructions from home that I was to apologize, so maybe she hadn’t brought it up, but I would have to. As the dismissal bell rang, Miss Martin motioned me to her desk. She shut the door as the last student left.

“Oh no. Here we go.” I said under my breath.

She stared at me for a few seconds.

“I want to apologize.” Miss Martin began. “I looked up a few things and many birds do, in fact, have small modified feathers around their eyes.”

“Yep. Eyelashes.” I thought as I bit my adolescent tongue.

“Now.” She continued. “Do you have anything you would like to say to me?”

Oh boy, did I. She didn’t seem too intelligent. How dare she doubt the knowledge of a budding ornithologist?  How dare she criticize the artwork of the next Audubon? I could feel the irritation building as I thought of just what I really wanted to tell her.

But we were having lasagna for dinner and I didn’t want to miss it.

“Sorry about yesterday.” I said instead.

She smiled.

“It is a beautiful eagle.” She stated as she straightened the jar of paintbrushes on her desk. “It will be in the school art contest.”

She suddenly seemed very intelligent. With all forgiven on both sides, we parted ways and I dutifully reported to my parents that I had apologized. They already knew. She’d called them.

Several weeks later, in the middle of my sculpting a frog, she summoned me to her desk. This time in front of everyone.

“Oh no. Here we go again.”  I said under my breath.

“I want to talk to you about your eagle.” She walked towards me.

“What?” I thought sarcastically. “His toenails were crooked?”

There, right in front of the entire class, she handed me a little blue ribbon and grabbed me by the shoulders.

“You won the contest!”

I kept my winning eagle artwork for many years. Much of the India ink was lost over time, a bit scraped off here, a bit peeled off there, but I loved it just the same. It surfaced now and then as I went through closets or boxes and I’d often hold it and stare in admiration. One day I stared a little longer than usual and really studied the prize winner.

It wasn’t very good.

The poor bird’s body was extremely portly and his feet were different sizes. I wasn’t quite sure whether he had two wings or three and his tail was far too short. Much of the ragged eagle was way out of proportion, but one thing was clear…

His eyelashes were fabulous!

Stuart M. Perkins

 

 

 

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Wait…

I’m watching from my window today.

For a few minutes more, at least. Saturday errands call, but right now the view into the garden has my willpower paralyzed. Soothed by the peaceful nothingness happening out there, I stare blissfully through the glass a little longer.

Oh well. I need to start those errands. Yawn, stretch, and one last glance outside before I begin. I stand up.

Wait… I sit back down.

There’s a bird. A little yellow bird. He flits and darts to the top of a frost-covered evergreen. Stops, hops, poses, and drops to another branch to repeat his mesmerizing moves. He struts and prances along several branches then flies away in a blur. Gone. How lucky I was to have shared that moment!

It doesn’t matter.

I have to get the car inspected. It’s too important not to. I stand up.

Wait… I sit back down.

Those leaves. Those five little leaves left clinging to a twig on the winter-bare crepe myrtle. They were yellow a second ago. Wow look! In one fluid move they drift from yellow to gold to fiery orange as a shifting morning sun illuminates them from behind. Amazing to have seen that magic display!

It doesn’t matter.

I have to get to the post office. It’s too important not to. I stand up.

These errands and many others! Now I have to hurry! So much to do today! Urgent rushing and running!

Wait…

Just wait. Maybe I’ll get the car inspected tomorrow. And the bank is open next week. What’s one more day for a few insipid tasks?

How often does a yellow bird dance in the trees for me while the sun turns tiny leaves into fire? Moments like these happen every day, but I won’t see if I don’t watch.

I really should watch. It’s too important not to. I sit back down.

Saturday errands call but I know what they can do.

Wait…

I’m watching from my window today.

Stuart M. Perkins

 

 

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Virginia Living – The Greatest Show!

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in the current issue of Virginia Living magazine!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine again (my fourth essay for them) and as a Virginian, like my parents and theirs, it was especially fun to contribute to a publication I’ve had in my own home over the years.

Below is a link to my piece in the online version of Virginia Living.  Check it out, and if you like please comment on their site in the space just below the essay. I’d love to hear your feedback!

http://www.virginialiving.com/home/the-greatest-show/

Thanks to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to some great opportunities.

I’ve included some garden photos (before-ish and after-ish) from the experience.

Stuart M. Perkins

23.4.5.1

7.8.9.11.6.

 

 

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Just Wait

They await me. Even though I’m on vacation, they’re begging me to come back.

And I will.

Back to the harried rush of meetings. Deadlines. Anxiety. Lengthy agendas listing tedious tasks. Obnoxious lights blinking on a phone full of messages. All imperative, all immediate, all demanding. Pushing to answer email, now scrambling to copy. Faxing this, scanning that. Phone ringing again. Dread. The desk is too small. The piles are too big. Paperwork. Staying late, working late, fighting the commute.

Frenzy of the morning crush. Back to the frantic mess. Filing, shredding, phone blaring again. Tension. Late for a conference call. Rules have changed, reworking it all. They need it now. No, never mind. Wasted effort. Stress. This is urgent, get it done. Due date yesterday. Panic. Waiting for the next emergencies. And I know they’re out there even when I can’t see them.

Stop, brain!

I’m on vacation, remember.

Breathe…

Seagulls soared on a balmy breeze and laughed at gentle waves below. Easy rays of morning sun warmed my face as I smiled at the silly birds. Surrounded by the sweet briny smell of ocean air I watched dolphins leap in placid swells as water sparkled and rolled from their backs. I eased my head against the comfortable canvas chair. A slow parade of cheerful white clouds sailed silently overhead.

Pelicans flew in a graceful line, gliding just above the salty surface. Their synchronized wings were mesmerizing. Shorebirds made soft sounds dancing down the beach just ahead of the tide. Tiny crabs shuffled daintily across powdery soft sand and occasionally a fish jumped just offshore. Further in the distance a splash, then the massive fluke of a whale. All of these things were magical. And I know they’re out there even when I can’t see them.

They’ll await me. Even when I’m at work, they’ll be begging me to come back.

And I will.

 

Stuart M. Perkins

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Near Miss

Wait! Frantically I chased the bus trying to catch the driver’s attention. Brakes screeched and exhaust puffed as he threw open the door and impatiently waved me in. Out of breath from my unexpected sprint, I leaped onto the bus which jerked roughly into motion. Why does everything seem so urgent?

Ear shattering noises blasting from my alarm clock that morning had startled me into reality. Abusing the snooze button meant ultimately springing from bed in a hasty rush. After a speedy shower I dressed in a hurry and dashed out of my front door to see the bus pulling away.

And from now on I should hurry! I nearly missed it!

Anxiety at work as constant emails popped up. Between fast-paced phone calls I zipped out for a quick lunch and realized in a panic that I was late to a meeting. Choking down a sandwich while running, I flew through the doors of the conference room just as the meeting began.

Frazzled and heading home, the congested commute included a hectic stop by the crowded market before charging off to meet others at a restaurant across town. The cab was late, I anxiously begged the driver to speed up, and barely made it before losing the reservation.

Busy Saturday’s numerous errands included a breakneck trip to the dry cleaners before stopping by the bank. Next, off to the post office. Back towards home to drop off the car for repairs before the mechanic closed. Heavy traffic and honking horns added to the stress of trying to make it in time.

And from now on I should hurry! I nearly missed it!

Breathe. Calmly, I began the next morning determined to take it easy. Though always much to do, this day would not suffer the angry push from an alarm clock. Lusciously aromatic steam billowed from my coffee cup as I eased into the cushioned chair on the patio outside. The fountain trickled peacefully in the background.

Beautifully, a cardinal sang from a branch in the maple as a nearby squirrel gave himself a lazy scratch behind the ear. Two small white butterflies danced and drifted as a pair across the garden. A fuzzy bumblebee covered in pollen took his time crawling over marigolds blooming under the crepe myrtle.

Gracefully, a sparrow floated down to land at the edge of the fountain. The little bird dipped its beak into the water, ruffled its feathers, and with eyes closed sat motionless in the early sunshine for several minutes. No sound. No movement. That tiny fellow had made a decision to find some peace in that moment. A valuable lesson.

And from now on I should slow down. I nearly missed it.

Stuart M. Perkins

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A Bucket of Teamwork

Several summers ago for work, I attended a week-long team-building conference held on a college campus. Attendees were divided into groups of five and members of each group were to collaborate on various projects for the duration of the conference. Small assignments began on day one and we were informed that the conference would culminate with a day-long special teamwork exercise. On the last day of the conference a project unique to each group would be assigned and required to be accomplished by day’s end.

“To demonstrate how your group has become a solid team.” the instructor explained with an evil grin.

Groans echoed through the classroom. My group’s leader was the most vocal.

None of the five in my group had met before the conference. In fact, we each came from a different state and attended the conference for various reasons. My group leader made it clear that he had been told to attend and he voiced his annoyance often.

“Is the teamwork project on the final day mandatory?” he frowned as he asked our instructor.

“Yes.” the instructor said sternly. “Don’t skip the final project.”

In spite of a rocky start my group worked through the assigned projects for the day. Everyone got along and was very nice but there was little interaction besides working together on the assigned tasks. At the end of class we left together but nothing was said as we walked from the conference hall across campus to our quarters.

The campus was beautiful. It was well landscaped, surrounded by woods, and a huge lake was its centerpiece. As my group neared the lake on the route to our rooms we passed a small dilapidated brick shed tucked into the edge of the woods. One side of the shed had collapsed to expose what was once a cellar. We got closer and heard a slight rustle from inside. Two of us stopped to peer over the edge of the brick wall that surrounded the old cellar hole. When we did, a duck flew up and out, nearly hitting us in the face as it headed towards the lake. Down in the cellar hole, surrounded on all sides by the tall brick wall, was a nest with several eggs. Interesting, we thought, and continued on to our rooms.

The next morning my group met at the conference hall to begin our day’s assignments. Once again my group leader voiced his opinion about the massive project scheduled for the last day.

“Don’t ignore the final project.” the instructor reminded.

Each day that week was pretty much the same. Our group met, completed our tasks, said little else to each other, and returned to our rooms. We did well with our assignments but it was difficult to see progress being made towards becoming a cohesive team.

We stayed very late, almost until dark, on the eve of our final day. My group leader once again grumbled loudly about the next day’s massive assignment.

“Don’t dodge the final project.” the instructor warned.

We left the conference hall to head to our rooms no more a team than on day one. We approached the old shed, something we’d done every day, where one or two of us would peer into the cellar hole to look at the eggs. This time we heard the mother duck before we saw her. She paced along the brick wall, quacking loudly. When we got closer she hesitated a second before flying away, not to the lake, but to an old azalea just a few yards away. She quacked frantically as we, this time as a group, peered over the wall and into the cellar hole.

Huddled together in a corner were nine tiny ducklings.

They were hard to see since it was late evening but we clearly made out nine fluffy balls of duck. We weren’t sure how they would get out, but darkness, preparation for the final day’s project, and the hope that the duckling’s mother knew more than we did swayed us into simply heading back to our rooms.

The next morning we met to head down the path one last time to the conference hall. The only sign that we were a team was our mutual dread of that day’s final project. We ourselves weren’t even convinced that we’d come anywhere near being a “team” capable of working together when presented with an impromptu task.

In a fog of dread we marched towards the conference hall. The loud and frantic quacking we heard near the old shed snapped us out of it. The mother duck once again paced back and forth along the brick wall and flew to the old azalea when we approached. All nine ducklings still huddled at the bottom of the cellar hole. We as a group peered over the edge of the wall together.

“They’ll die in there” our group leader announced unceremoniously.

I looked around the collapsed shed for a board the ducklings might use as a ladder but found nothing long enough. Inside the collapsed portion of the shed though, was a gripper used to change light bulbs on a rusted, but very long pole. I pulled it from under bits of the collapsed roof and took it back to the group.

“Maybe we can use this.” I said.

The pole could actually reach the ducklings – which scattered and peeped loudly causing the mother duck to quack more frantically than before. Rust prevented the light bulb gripper from closing, so it was impossible to actually grab a duckling and raise it from the hole without it falling from the gripper. They could be scooped out maybe?

As we planned our approach there was a crash in the old shed. Another group member emerged with an old bucket.

“Can you scoop them into this?” she asked.

As the mother duck quacked incessantly, the five of us looked at each other and launched into action.

I used the long pole of the light bulb gripper to herd the ducklings into a corner closest to me. One group member, held tightly around the waist by another group member, leaned into the opposite end of the cellar hole as far as she could, the old bucket dangling from her hand. I leaned into the hole, scooped one duckling into the light bulb gripper, and passed it into the bucket. Success.

One by one I scooped ducklings into the dangling bucket manned by two of the team members. With each scoop, the remaining ducklings scattered. The other team members, using long sticks they found in the woods, leaned into the cellar hole to herd scattered ducklings back towards me. It took quite some time but we finally had a bucket of ducklings. The mother duck continued to quack frantically from under the old azalea as her babies peeped louder and louder in the bucket.

Together, the five of us walked towards the mother duck with the bucket. She backed away, frightened by so many of us, so our group leader went alone. He made his way slowly to within a few feet of the old azalea and gently dumped the nine ducklings onto the ground. They huddled motionless. The mother duck kept up the frantic quacking, moving closer to the fuzzy huddle, until one by one each duckling stood to run directly to her.

Her frantic quacking ceased instantly. She waddled slowly but steadily towards the lake with a mass of ducklings following closely between her legs. We actually applauded!

“Now that was teamwork!” our group leader said.

And with that comment we realized we were late for our last day’s mandatory project.

We hurriedly made our way to the conference room. Covered in rust, mud, and duck poop we mentally prepared ourselves for what the instructor would say about our tardiness. A feather floated silently in the air as we opened the door. The instructor turned to face us.

“Well!” the instructor began. “I was certain your group was going to duck out of this final assignment.”

“We did duck out!” our team leader responded.

The instructor didn’t understand why we five laughed in unison, as a team.

Stuart M. Perkins

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