The Backyard

It has been many years that I have lived here.

I came to live here in a most round-about way, and in spite of desperately wanting to leave for most of those years, here is where I have lived.

Children have grown up.  Left.  Come back.  Left again.

Usually leaving a cat or two.  Once even three.

I live on the ground floor.  Except for the laundry room, the entire floor is mine alone.

I read here.
I eat here.
I sleep here.
I write here.

It is my room.

Only the laundry room end of the floor is underground.

The back wall is all glass: windows and doors.  And it looks out onto the backyard.

When this development was developed the builders stripped off all the topsoil and left us residents with rocky, rough ground.

One neighbor spent over ten years trying to establish a lawn.  

I have been here since 2001, and, yes, I am beginning to see smooth grass in some of the yards.

Ours is generally untended.

It is mowed.  But that’s about it.

Over the years I have watched the backyard, sorry for its haggard state.  Loving it when little flowers appear here and there.  

I leave the dandelions to sprout and spew.  

Anything is better than the wasteland that it is.

Or was.

I’ve been doing a bit of strewing myself.  

Old tea leaves.  

Ground-up this and that.  

The yard seemed to always be a reflection of my ill state.

Still here, nowhere near beautiful, but ruggedly surviving.

Not that long ago there was a sudden snow storm that left the birds who were just coming into the neighborhood disoriented.

I looked through my cupboards and found old bags of nuts that weren’t used.  And grains.

Old cans of breadcrumbs.

I took a few small bread loaf pans and filled them with what I had found.

And put them out in the yard on the snow.

And the crows were delighted.  

They cawed and swooped and gulped.

Other birds were grateful for the treat, too.

And my heart filled with joy at watching them.

I have had all sorts of wildlife in the yard.

Squirrels, of course.

Everything under the sun.  At least the sun in this part of the world.

One day I stepped out and there on the landing was a small turtle.  How it had gotten here was beyond me.  There is no water in the yard.  It was too small to have come to visit a friend and find him not at home, and then gotten lost along the way.

I came up with the explanation that a bird had dropped it.

It wasn’t as feeble as I had first thought: it found it’s way out of the yard quite efficiently.  Where it went, I have no idea.  I never saw it again.

At the end of the yard is a patch of wildness.  Trees and such.  

Lots of leaves.  

A bit of a hill going down.

And in the trees birds flit.

Back and forth.

The yard is also bounded by fences.  One goes the whole length, the other only halfway.

And birds sit on these fences.

After the success of the breadcrumbs on the snow, I wanted to do more for the birds, and was delighted to learn that there was a wild bird store in town.

There had been one here years ago, but was forced to close.  I had used it for big bags of nut mixes that I brought to work (a place deep in the woods with a back deck and many feeders) to feed the woodpeckers and nuthatches. 

I guess you could say that bird feeding is in my heart naturally.

Growing up I happily helped my grandmother put suet in mesh bags and hang them on tree limbs and from the clothes line.  

We covered pine cones (in abundant supply) with peanut butter.  

And we did whatever she was prompted to do for the birds, which was a lot.  

And so I started thinking of her successes.  That was built on her commitment.  And the ready availability of trees around the house to hang feeding options on. 

I wondered how I could do that here.  With a small, struggling-to-live, suburban backyard.

At the wild bird store I was once again caught up in the love of birds that I have, and liked being somewhere where others did too.

I wanted to start small.  Gently.

Do something and see how it worked.

Bird feeding has become something of an industry these days.  There weren’t just feeders there, but feeder systems.  Big iron contraptions that you put together like a fake Christmas tree to hang things on.

One of the first things the owner showed me was a panoramic picture of someone’s system that took up his entire yard.  

Like a children’s public playground with structures lacing through the property. 

I thought it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen.

And my mind went to considering the difference between women and men.  Men Like To Build Things.

I just wanted to feed the birds.

At this time of year, the screaming of the birds in the trees behind the house is enormous.

I can walk down the hill to the trail below, and walk along it for quite a ways before I no longer hear them.

A few houses down from this one has a few feeders hanging off its deck.

So the birds nested behind me, but flew to her feeders, and made the skies look like some sort of urban airport.  

I really did want to start small.  And see if anyone was interested.

I settled on a flattish 14″ green disc that was laced to a small metal frame with thin, round legs that I could poke down into the earth.

If I could find earth I could poke down into.

It lays very close to the ground, which I liked.

I stuck to my guns against the recommendation of the store owner and bought a big bag of mixed peanuts and corn and some seed.

Something simple, but that might appeal to different animals.

I put the dish out.

I put some food in it.

Immediately, crows came.  And blue jays.  And squirrels.  

And little sparrows.

There came to one of the fences this little round brown bird that had, it seemed, swallowed a bull horn.  And he would sit there and look up at the main floor windows and sing his song.  Over and over and over and over.

The sound of this pipsqueak bird filled the house.

I still don’t know what it is.

I started to think about options for the yard.  

I wanted a bird table: like a picnic table with sides that you pour bird feed into and let them at it.

But it’s an English concept.

Not here.

I thought about this and that.

I kept returning to my grandmother’s approach: homemade, creative, sweet.

And I kept thinking about those bird feeding systems and feeling like that was not the way I wanted to go.

I didn’t want to look out at metal structures, even if they were providing food for the birds.

After a month I was down to feeling discouraged.  I couldn’t find a way to express myself.

I put feed in the dish.  

But that was where all the happening happened.

Did I want a system of these dishes around the yard?

I began to put some seed in the dish, and then put a bunch more under the trees and along the fences.

And I liked how this gave little birds a way to eat away from the squirrels.  I also liked how the birds and squirrels had to look for the food.

You know, like they have to do in nature.

And that was what kept coming to me: I want to be natural about this.

Then the day came that the yard had to mowed.

I had to bring in the dish.

So I did.

And left it in all night, even though I had taken it in in the early afternoon.

The next morning I saw what I wanted to see: the mower must have distributed the seed over the yard.

And there was no big, green focus.

They were all on an equal eating field.  So to speak.

Birds of all sorts and the squirrels criss-crossed the yard.

It was like a child’s birthday party.

Everyone was so excited to run around and find goodies.

And I knew that that was what I wanted for the yard: freedom.

I know that expensive, well designed feeders are “better” for the birds.

But I was happy with what I was looking at.

For the first time that I looked at that yard.

I thought about San Diego.

It has two zoos.

One is the regular zoo, with animals organized by their species.

And the other is a wild animal park, where you ride around and watch the animals roam free. 

And I realized that in my heart that is what I wanted for the backyard: a way to let the birds and other guests roam free.

So now I am working at finding ways to put things out that isn’t all just throwing seed on the ground.  

There has to be a bird bath or two.  

I’ve taken the green dish to the furthest end of the yard, so that anyone wanting seed without going there could do so.

It was no longer the center of attention.

There are plenty of peanuts and corn and chopped-up leftover vegetables and fruit for anyone who happens to land in the yard.

I’ve moved my writing table, once in a little nook, to in front of one of the windows.  

And it is, after all these years, beginning to feel like home.

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