I watch the chickadees in the tree, flitting from branch to branch. Occasionally, one will hop onto the bird feeder and grab some seeds before dashing away with their treat. It’s winter and cold now, colder than usual. The air bites as soon as I step outside, but it smells clean and clear. As I inhale, the cold, clean air fills me, transforms me. The bird feeders are almost empty. I have on my boots and a sweatshirt. As the wind whips my hair, I wish I had donned my heavier coat. But I am out here now, so I will do what needs to be done.
Carefully, I tromp over the crusted snow, avoiding areas where the dog may have been. He has a pattern, and I know it. I made it to the large tamarack tree, bare in the depth of winter, and lift down first one then the other bird feeder. The little black and white birds watch me and stay just out of my reach. They seem curious. I talk to them, as I always talk to creatures.
“It’s okay, little ones. I am going to fill your feeders. I will be right back.”
My voice is soft. I don’t want to scare them.
I follow my footprints back to the front porch and set the feeders on the potting bench. We keep the birdseed in a heavy-duty plastic bucket, so the mice don’t get into it. I pry open the container’s lid. My fingers are almost numb with cold already, but I don’t mind too much. I scoop seed into each bird feeder. Some spills on the porch, and I leave it there for the mice. Even though I don’t like them, the little critters deserve to eat, too. When the feeders are full, I snap the lid back on the seed container and begin my trek to the tree once more.
My big black dog comes bounding out of the forest at me just as I reach the tree.
“Hey there, buddy. Where have you been?”
His thick black fur keeps him warm, and he loves being outside in winter. I hang one of the feeders back on its hook on a branch and watch as the little chickadees watch me. One of them actually hops a little closer to where I am standing, drawn by the knowledge of food.
I move to the other side of the tree to hang the second feeder. Emmet bounces around me, clearly wanting to play.
“I’m too cold, Emmet. It’s freezing out here!” I pause for a moment and watch as several birds greedily visit the feeders, unconcerned about my presence so near their home. “Come on, boy, let’s go in. I’ll get you a treat.”
At the mention of his favorite word, Emmet races across the yard to the front door. I follow him as quickly as I can over the uneven terrain, shivering as another gust of wind rips past me. Content that my feathered neighbors now have some food for the coming days, I enter the warm house and shed my boots and coat. Emmet, having followed me in, looks at me eagerly.
“I haven’t forgotten,” I laugh.
I walk to the kitchen, calling to Zoe as I go.
“Zoe, do you want a treat too?”
My older dog, brown with an aged grey muzzle, shambles off the sofa and meets us in the kitchen. I pull two milk bones from the container on top of the fridge and hold one out in each hand. The dogs take them from me, Zoe gently and Emmet with a snatching motion.
Deciding that cold weather deserves a nap, I wrap myself in a long colorful shawl and curl up on the sofa.