WILD THINGS: READING MAGAZINES ON THE PORCH

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It was early and we were drinking coffee on the porch. My wife had the right chair, the one where, if you tilted your head the right way, you could use the pole to keep the sun out of your eyes after it came over the treetops. Which was right, because she was the first, which gave her rights. Plus, she made coffee, as she did most mornings, which gave her even more rights.

Me, I was holding the New Yorker at a weird angle between all that brightness and my face, reading a story about Bridget Everett, who has a show on HBO and is apparently a very funny person, albeit approached from the wrong angle I could have been accused of attempting to signal virtue by reading a smart pants magazine in some sort of showy posture. But really, I was just trying to block out the sun.

When I looked up, I could see a brown pelican slicing high across the island, its body twisted a bit by the wind. Then came a magnificent frigate, which somehow swam into a headwind, rising into a stall, then dipping from the nose to regain momentum. There didn’t seem to be any reason for him to, other than it was probably fun.

The week before, I had been out on the street, trying to take a decent photo of a chair we had been given – thanks, PE! – when I heard a northern mockingbird sing softly to itself. Which was a first. Every year around this time you start to hear mockingbirds softly sing to warm up and practice before migrating north, but I had never heard a mockingbird do that. I tend to think of them as go-getter birds in everything they do.

A week later, the mockingbird had turned up the volume – not to 11, but to a solid 7. When wealthy people in a Cessna Citation flew overhead, it almost sounded like it was trying to harmonize with the noise of the jet.

In the tree beside the aisle, there was a gray catbird, which practiced nothing, and certainly not in harmony. It was just loudly screaming the same feline call over and over, seemingly at no one in particular. After a while, we were both like, yeah, we get it, you’re a cat.

When I finished the comedian’s story, I moved on to a long article about a right-wing provocateur who was vying to take Rush Limbaugh’s place in the American hate landscape, but I stopped after a few paragraphs, because how much space do you want to let these people take place in your psyche?

The sun finally rose high enough to reach the edge of the roof and I was able to read my magazine like a normal human, and my wife got up to make a Zoom call. I was just beginning to read a long article about a man who had taught English in China years ago and was following the entrepreneurial careers of some of his students, when I heard it – a little buzzing appeal that I had been hoping to hear for a long time. I froze.

A few weeks ago I was talking to the woman and the three little girls who live across the street, and they said something about how they liked seeing the painted bunting coming to the feeder that we hung up in front, and I said something that it was really great, they liked it, really great. ‘Cause they’re nice people, and it felt inappropriate to go on a sputtering rant about why why why were they seeing buntings painted at my feeder when I hung the damn thing up but didn’t seen? Children generally don’t need to see adults throw tantrums.

It’s not like I haven’t seen painted buntings before. I had spent a few hours in a friend’s garden last winter and had managed to see them. And I’ve seen them a bunch of times in places like Fort Zach and the native park. But if you see painted buntings every day of your life, you still can’t see enough painted buntings.

Male Painted Sparrows are about as technicolor as they are in North America, a three-pronged burst of color – green blue red. Joseph’s dream coat has nothing on them.

That little buzzing call I heard was a painted bunting. He came from down in the sea grapes.

It took me a few minutes to see the bird, partly because it was suspicious and partly because I was looking for the wrong colors. It was a female, and while the males all have a multicolored vibe, the females are yellow-green overall, best to hide in the foliage and go about their business.

After five minutes without moving a muscle, she finally jumped onto the feeder. She stuck her head in, grabbed a seed, spat it out, then put her head back in and found a seed she liked better. I wondered if she saw me as part of the scenery or just something she didn’t need to worry about unless I moved. She poked her head a few more times and swallowed a few more seeds before a van rolled down the street and she flew away.

She returned about 10 minutes later, however, this time with a male Painted Sparrow following a few branches behind her.

She came back to the manger and started eating. The male came closer and closer and I believe was also about to jump on the feeder when the dog came out onto the porch. The dog just wanted to sniff the leaves of the mint plant, but there’s no way to explain that to the sparrows, and off they went.

They didn’t come back for the rest of the morning, which was fine. There’s always tomorrow morning, and the next morning. And I have a whole stack of magazines to read.

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