Tuesday, July 4, 2017

By way of apology to the wild birds in our neighborhood

Written towards the end of May, just in case

By Moristotle

Besides missing Siegfried, who will be kenneled for the month of June, a sadness of being away from home, mostly in Paris, is the knowledge that our neighborhood’s wild birds will find no seeds in our back yard all that time. They won’t even find their favorite feeders. I took the favorite feeders down this morning to stage the photograph shown above. Though it may look inviting enough to you, I who delight in seeing & hearing birds there, find it a desolate spectacle.
    In a ritual of apology to these birds, some of whose photos I posted under the title “Ayard in springtime” on April 27, I write this and schedule it for publication on a day soon after my wife & I are scheduled to return home – just in case “something happens” and we don’t make it back.

In preparation for that eventuality, just in case, we have updated our wills and given our children confidential information for executing its provisions, assigned powers of attorney, and found willing emergency contacts for Siegfried. I had not anticipated how much more needs to be planned for a month in Europe when you factor considerations of mortality into the itinerary....
    Oh, I don’t think we’ve told our children where we’re leaving our car in Charlotte! And where will we leave its key...just in case?

We have been much on “Paris alert.” Yesterday, my wife came back in the house holding her iPhone and reporting that the forecast temperature for right then was quite a bit cooler than it seemed to be in our back yard. But then she noticed the Weather app was showing the Paris forecast....
    A travel alert contains a strain of apprehension, a keen awareness that daily routines are about to be interrupted, every day about to be a surprise, without accustomed mooring in our familiar place, our usual schedule, our daily habits. But Marcel Proust, whose Remembrance of Things Past I am reading, poignantly describes [on p. 706 of Chapter 2. Within a Budding Grove, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff & Terence Kilmartin] how, “on the morning of travel,” the traveler’s senses are sharpened to experience with fresh appetite and relish:
As a rule it is with our being reduced to a minimum that we live; most of our faculties lie dormant because they can rely upon Habit, which knows what there is to be done and has no need of their services. But on this morning of travel, the interruption of the routine of my existence, the unfamiliar place and time, had made their presence indispensable. My habits, which were sedentary and not matutinal [of or occurring in the morning], for once were missing, and all my faculties came hurrying to take their place, vying with one another in their zeal, rising, each of them, like waves, to the same unaccustomed level, from the basest to the most exalted, from breath, appetite, the circulation of my blood to receptivity and imagination [emphasis mine].
After taking the photo above, I put the feeders back up for another joyous day of happy birdsong before we leave for Charlotte on May 30. (The birds won’t approach them, however, until I leave the immediate vicinity. They are quite risk-averse, and they don’t seem to become less so even for someone who feeds them everyday.)

It’s the Sunday before departure, and I’m having some sad thoughts. This morning, I put out the last of our stock of thistle (Nyger) and sunflower hearts (or “chips”), which was not quite enough to fill the feeders. Tomorrow I will have to watch first-hand as birds compete over whatever shards might remain, if any. Do they visit other feeders? What do they do if they are all empty?
    I have scheduled posts for publication every day we will be away, until the week of our return, and I am missing the joyous work. (Maybe that’s why I’m expanding this post?) I might have thought I could just float on some jubilation of triumph and accomplishment, but apparently not – even though I do see it as an accomplishment, one that means a lot to me. I think this proves that it’s the activity, not its completion and no-longer-needing-to-be-done, that rewards me. And blogging, like feeding the birds daily, like having Siegfried’s head on my knee, will be interrupted by the upcoming trip.
    A couple of people who know about the trip have asked me whether I’m starting to “get excited” about it. Not exactly, although I have enjoyed organizing things, packing, seeing my wife’s pleasure of anticipation. I am resigned to the reality that we are going on this trip, and I know that the routines of airports, flying, staying in a familiar apartment in Montmartre, taking buses & metros, grocery-shopping at the Monoprix, and many other regular activities of Paris will quickly re-establish themselves in my psyche.
    And I will not forget Proust’s lesson about permitting my “faculties...[to rise]...to receptivity and imagination.” It can be glorious, and no doubt excitement will overtake me at some point soon.

July 3. We made it back! We climbed out of bed in Montmartre at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, and about 24 hours later we climbed into our own beds, an hour after reaching home. The longest day of our trip included taking the sheets off the bed of the apartment we used, lugging all our bags three flights down in the building’s cozy elevator (four trips) to meet our taxi, riding to Charles De Gaulle Airport...coffee & croissants (I had a “Maxi Pain au Chocolat”), security, departure gate switched shortly before boarding for Lufthansa flight to Munich, take-off, landing, half-hour delay on the airplane after all of the other passengers had deplaned waiting for “mobility services” to bring a wheelchair for my wife (“The Charlotte flight will not leave without you,” we were assured, “this is our fault”; “But will the other passengers see it that way?” I quipped), finally being “mobilized” to the departure gate, more passport-showing, being the absolutely first passengers boarded for Charlotte (even before those in first class; we were in “premium economy”), being given personal pre-flight instructions for the very first time in my experience, take-off, listening to music using my Bose noise-reducing head phones, eating lunch, listening to more music, taking a nap, watching a movie (Saving Mr. Banks, about Walt Disney’s working with P. L. Travers to adapt her Mary Poppins for film – wonderful story!), taking another nap, eating a snack, landing in Charlotte, being again mobilized by yet another pleasantly solicitous human, passports, baggage claim, me braving a downpour of rain to hail a shuttle bus to Daily West while my wife waited at the curb with all our bags, the car starting immediately!, me not getting lost trying to get back to my wife, making good time on the freeway, stopping for ice cream just because, stopping for coffee to help keep me awake enough to drive, deciding not to stop for a few grocery items – we would make-do for breakfast, we’re home!, turn the water main on, reset the water heater to normal, unpack just enough to go to bed, to sleep, not knowing where I was when I woke up to pee, imagining I was still in Paris....
    We bought sunflower seed hearts & thistle the next day & collected Siegfried from the kennel. He didn’t act nearly as glad as usual to see us after a trip – had we really been away long enough for him to have become estranged from us?
    At home, Siegfried continued to seem “out of it,” apathetic, not hungry, and falling down sometimes on our mostly carpetless floors. But this morning his mama looked over the boarding receipt and noticed that he’d been treated for a urinary tract infection and given the medication tramadol, which has sedative properties. We now assumed (hoped) that he had been under its influence yesterday. He was already regaining his appetite and walking normally.
    And this evening he continued to show signs of his usual, lovable self, including lying on the couch with his head on my knee, and barking with excitement in the moments before getting his mama’s okay to go ahead and start eating his dinner. He’s asleep now, as well as Mama. And I would be too, except I remembered this post.

And the birds, the birds! I put out some sunflower hearts & thistle yesterday and this morning, and I looked out at the feeders many times, hoping to see that some birds had come – but always looking in vain until a scant hour ago, when, finally, we had some visitors.
    I think it was that glad sighting that reminded me of midnight’s posting. And I remember now what I had been told at the wild bird center yesterday when I expressed my concern about “abandoning” the birds for a month: “They don’t become dependent on you, you know. They’ll find food. And if the same birds don’t return, there will be others.”
    I’d still like to think the same ones will return, though – and accept my apology.

Copyright © 2017 by Moristotle


  1. Looking forward to hearing all the finite details as the weeks go by! Welcome home and happy 4th of July 🇺🇸🇬🇧

    1. Thank you, dear Penny of Cardiff – one of the places soon to be featured from our recent adventure. But I didn’t do a good job last year blogging about our 50th wedding anniversary trip, so if you (and others) will bug me from time to time, it couldn’t help but help!

    2. And thank you too, Penny, for the 4th of July wish. Indeed, happy Independence Day, America is now free to elect leaders like Donald Trump! As Carolyn said a few minutes ago, "Strange 4th of July – Trump's America."

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Ed! Good to be home, even though we love Montmarte and know that we will suffer moments of intense PDS – Paris Deprivation Syndrome, as our friend whose apartment we used defines it.

  3. The following heart-warming comment comes from novelist Michael Hanson, who has graced our pages with a number of excerpts from his elegant works:

    I just read your pre-Paris “apology to the birds” column, and LOVED it. I could feel all of that pre-trip nervous sadness, all the habits you'd have to leave and of course the dreadful what-if? questions which arise regarding mortality, but then SO FUN to read the run-on description of your arrival back, culminating with Siegfried's head on your knee and the feeders finally full again and "visitors" arriving.