Dances With Wrens

Before I begin my isolated hours of writing each day, I make sure all the critters outside have a nutritious breakfast, ‘the most important meal of the day.’ Over the years, birds, squirrels, rabbits, toads, turtles and the occasional “for some reason I couldn’t make it home before daylight” opossum quietly wait on limbs in the shadows of leaves, or on the roof top, some behind the brick pile or leaning kayaks, under a car or along the wooden fence anticipating my arrival. I round the corner of the house and walk the path toward their breakfast nook carrying the food tray bounty of wild grain, cracked corn, peanuts, fruits and vegetables, sunflower seeds and soaked cat chow. Although they sit as still as statues, I see them waiting, but they don’t think I do. They know, conditioned — so to speak, by a certain time every morning I, or my pet sitter, will be coming to stock the feed poles and feeding stations. They are wild animals and not pets, this I know, but the little extra is provided to supplement what limited resources they now have due to loss of habitat and food sources. They all, usually, wait patiently until the small bowls are filled, piles of seed are strategically placed to prevent arguments and water is replenished. Occasionally, a Black-Capped Chickadee will land on my arm and look up at me, which, I think, is the “hurry up” message. It could also be she just felt like riding part of the way. A frisky or just plain rude squirrel will run up to me as I’m sitting the tray down and take a swipe at a cup of seeds before I shoo him away. I try to get the food out as quickly as possible, but it’s never fast enough for some. One of the most enjoyable moments of my early morning feeding routine is dancing with my backyard Carolina Wrens. As soon as the food tray touches the wooden beams under the mammal boxes, I hear the chattering of the small buffy, songbirds with their tipped up tails before I see them. The wrens then flit to the top of our wooden fence. They each choose their own board (need to be wing distance apart, I guess). It’s usually an even number, two or four, (unless fledglings are on-board) because a male and female will bond, and the pair will stay together for life. A Carolina Wren’s diet usually consists of insects and spiders, but they have found a liking for my red-skinned peanuts and wild-berry suet. I feel a responsibility toward them because they chose my land as their safe haven and unlike migratory birds, they stay in their chosen territory year round. One year a wren couple nested in the machinery of my garage door opener, so I couldn’t use it for five weeks. Manually, I propped the garage door up a few inches so they could get in and out. On this morning they watch me prep the area with fresh, clean food and as usual, get so excited they begin the dance! Although their faces never change and there’s obviously no indication of a smile as you can see from the pictures, I truly believe what I’m seeing is their “happy dance.” It starts with a solid grasp on the fence top and a subtle lean to the left . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

then a wide swoop forward and downward, with a huge lean to the right . . . . . . . . . . . . .

then they push way up, off their toes and throw their head back to the sky. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (And swing that wren!)

It’s a fairly simple dance that keeps repeating those same steps. Come on people, try it. Lean to the left, swoop down low and to the right, stretch way up on your toes, lean your head back, try it again and here we go! It becomes an effective, circular stretch for me, and I feel pretty happy doing it, too. How do you feel? My imagination may be reaching, but I look forward to the day when all my backyard birds (and maybe an ambitious squirrel or two) line the fence and do the ‘Wren Dance’ with us. Too many Pixar movies? Maybe. One last dance, and time to go to work! The ‘Wren Dance’ makes it so much easier to brave the mental and physical rigors demanded in the writing jungle called my office.

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

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Filed under Articles, Essays, Stories, The Writing Life, Writing

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