Mid-February morning, silent house, a steaming cup of fresh brewed coffee, and a rare quiet moment to myself in the stillness of the early hours. I need this moment. Peering through the blurry condensation on the kitchen window overlooking my lumpy and weed-riddled Nashville backyard, it is evident that my labor yesterday pruning low-hanging walnut, hackberry, and poplar branches successfully opened the understory, offering a newer, wider and brighter perspective on the whole. It is my hope that in doing so, adequate sunlight will at long last bathe the threadbare ground, offering what little grass is there the fighting chance to thicken, spread, even thrive.
As a result of the low trimming, we were obliged to relocate bird feeders along with a tin-roof birdhouse of kitschy Elvis motif to alternate locales. Wanting to keep them as close in view as would be comfortable for the birds, if only for the gift of being able to casually witness their avian pecking, flitting, chirping, and occasional disagreements. These tiny, alert, and nimble reminders of living abound amid shared black-oil sunflower seed and suet offerings. Repositioning one feeder near its original hackberry perch just outside the back room window, we hung the tin-roof dwelling and a moldy suet feeder along the northwestern corner of our home within the forked boughs of a leafless crepe myrtle towering above a sleeping bed of perennials.
The final feeder we hung in a young redbud on a branch admittedly far too flimsy, too near the ground, and much too easily accessible to pillaging squirrels and preying cats. A herd of Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, white-throats, cardinals, and the occasional lollygagging mockingbird, each in their naturally miraculous custom, have quickly ascertained this new location and source of food. This particular feeder has not been in use since we first moved into the house four years ago. It, like so much of natural creation, has been reclusive in hibernation, avoidance, and generalized hunkering down. How wildlife adjusts with such brisk seamlessness to the blunt, enigmatic realities of winter, to unrequested change, to honing in on new and plentiful sources of sustenance with such talent and determination remains a source of great wonder to me.
My observation point this morning, a child’s wooden chair — short but sturdy, a veritable Lilliputian throne – accompanies the matching two-foot-tall multi-purpose table where my children eat, drink, spill, play Star Wars, color, sort beans, and carve Play-Doh. A giant in this seat, my knees uncomfortable at near chin level, I hunker down and peck away at vowels and consonants in an attempt to summon words out of the world. Parula blue skies overhead – a psychological balm during winter’s morose lordship – the sun’s dawning light bounds and multiplies off the neighbor’s already golden yellow exterior paint causing me to wince at unexpected brightness. Squinting my eyes, the crow’s feet gather at my temples. Winter’s slow but resistant recession has begun, and every part of me approves of the transformation. Robins know, too. They sing differently in this air. With more intent, their warbles cascade with less timidity, more gallantly, with greater vigor, more musically sweeping. They know. I listen.
I myself become blurred, an unreasonable facsimile of myself beneath winter’s monochromatic gravity: graying eyes, dimming mind, exiled frustration, pent-up cabin fever, hands aching to labor, to feel soil within the creases of my palms, on fingertips and beneath nails once again; all tell-tale signs of my desire to undertake the creative act, to relocate wish and aspiration from the boughs of mere hope to that of deliverance. This longing to act, to construct, to build, to be in motion — even to fail miserably in the attempt — wells up in me, and the innate desire to work, to create, to bow before natural miracle, somehow resurrected and rekindled in a new locale among newfound sustenance, is a bounding source of bright illumination. I welcome the opportunity to wince at its presence, to relocate entombed ambitions and goals, to awaken from the slow pulse of hibernation, to exhume myself from the isolation of hunkering down, and at long last to listen, and to summon the world out of words.
Eric Peters, affectionately called “Pappy” by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He’s a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he’s not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he’s touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.