Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Birds

It's lambing time here in Ireland. It’s been weeks since we’ve out on our bikes, rolling through grey- and green-lined lanes, catching sight of sheep in the pastures. It's not going to happen now before we leave again for Salzburg. But when I went out this morning in the early quiet, just after 7, I could hear from across the fields the low bawling of the ewes and the higher bleating of their lambs.

I stopped and listened for a minute. It's warmer this morning, after several mornings of hard frosts and temperatures of -3 or -5. The sky, stretching back to where the horizon meets the blue Knockmeadowns, was heavy blue-grey. I stood on the step and listened thoughtfully, with rare attention: There were the bawlings of the sheep and the lowings of cattle and, over it all, the sharp cawings of the crows as they called each other from field to field. There was no low rumble of traffic on motorway or road, which is what we heard when we stopped to listen outside the flat by the wood in Salzburg. Just the sheep and cattle and crows and the sweet twittering of small birds filling the broad, strangely luminous, sky arching over the green valley from the Galtees to the Knockmealdowns.

I wondered where the lively bold robin, who flits to my feet when I come out with the seed each morning, had gone. He's been there every morning, sometimes two of them, through the hard frosts and snow. But they are solitary birds, I believe, and last spring they seemed to disappear from our garden at a certain point, nesting, probably, further down the bottom of the site in the dense hedge there. In fact, yesterday I watched a magpie lift high over the hedge with a twig in its mouth, then return and make the same journey with another twig.

This morning I again filled the bird feeders where the tits, finches and sparrows congregate and scattered seed under the low branches of the hedge for the blackbirds and thrushes. I cast it across the rough stone area that has served as our patio, where the doves and wood pigeons, the crows and jackdaws, Willie wagtails and magpies, hunt and peck out the best bits. I've done so every morning since the mellow autumn with its seeds and berries and late fruit turned to frosts and barren ground. The winter was so cold that even a cock pheasant took to stalking the ground, scrounging for seeds under the feeder. Last spring I scattered seed and filled the feeders until the summer was well established, but this year I won't be here. I can only hope the ground soon warms so the thrushes and blackbirds can root out snails and slugs from the uncultivated grass. From the hotel room in Salzburg, I fretted last week when I heard it was snowing in South Tipperary, fretted because I imagined the birds in vast white blankness, unable to forage for grubs and seeds.

Naturally, Himself points out that there have been birds for hundreds of thousands of years, and they have survived without Saint Lorraine feeding them, and they will go on surviving when I am not here. But not these particular birds, our birds, the thrushes and blackbirds that sang last summer as we sat in the warmth of a rare sunny evening. Not the pert bold robin that flits to my feet when I come out each morning. They are the birds I feed, not the untold generations of those birds that survived before me.

I had awakened early, tossing in the half darkness, worrying. My husband leaves tomorrow evening to return to the office in Salzburg. I’ll remain behind to oversee the packing and shipping and turn the house over to the estate agent. The finality of this week is closing in on me; we are really leaving this house. We will be once again packing all, or nearly all, of our possessions and moving them to another country. Now clothes hang in wardrobes or lie folded in drawers; now dishes and saucepans and casseroles are stacked in cupboards, and books line shelves. But Monday or Tuesday, possibly, there will be chaos as packers call me from room to room while they toss (or place neatly) all of it into packing cases and my stomach churns and knots. Then they will leave, and I will find myself in an empty, or nearly empty, house, rooms echoing, as I contemplate the luggage to be hauled to Dublin and into the hold of the plane, for a flight that hasn’t even been booked on a date still to be determined. The car hasn’t been disposed of. A tenant has not been found. Accounts haven’t yet been closed. I have no address to which to forward the mail. But by two weeks time, at the outside, I will be once again in Salzburg.

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