Messy Muses

I consider birds muses.  Not the best muses a writer could hope for, but in my case, all I’ve got.

I love birds.  I fill feeders with safflower seeds, black oilers, and mixed seeds to attract nuthatches, chickadees, tufted titmice, and cardinals.  I hang suet for the downy and hairy woodpeckers and toss peanuts out my kitchen door for the squirrels, blue jays, and red belly woodpeckers.  If I don’t, the blue jays sit in the crabapple tree and screech until I feed them.  I like that about jays.  They know what they want and pretty much demand it.

I throw out bread crumbs for the sparrows, grackles, and starlings.  They can be a nuisance, reproducing faster than rabbits, but I still worry when the hawks come.  And three different kinds of hawks visit our house.  My doves aren’t particularly fast.  The other birds take off, but the doves look around to see if they should be worried.  By then, it’s usually too late.  All that’s left is a flurry of feathers.

I get excited when I see a Carolina wren or a flock of cedar waxwings.  I sigh when I see goldfinches, but I’m not a true birdwatcher.  I don’t have a list like my friend, Neil, who travels to different state parks all over the country to find a bird he hasn’t seen before.  I just enjoy watching whatever comes to my feeders.  In the winter, once it’s dark, flying squirrels come to the shelf we nailed on our tree.  Our regular visitors are fox squirrels and raccoons, but lately, we’ve had black squirrels, too.

When I’m burrowed in my office, hunched over my keyboard, and my brain freezes, I wander into the kitchen for my umpteenth cup of coffee and look out the windows to see what birds are at the feeders.  I stall, watching them for a while, before inspiration strikes (or doesn’t), and I have to hit the keys again.   My steady companions, though, who are noisy and messy, the birds who share my writing room, are my grandson’s two parakeets, Ares and Abigail.

I had a parakeet when I was growing up.  I named him Hermes after the Greek god because he was clever and naughty.  I’ve been told that if you own one bird, it bonds with you.  If you own two, they bond with each other.  Nate’s parakeets get rowdy when they’re out of food, but other than demanding that I feed and water them, they want nothing to do with me.  They do like being spritzed with warm water, like a shower, and make happy noises, but once they have what they want, they’d rather I left them alone.  Just like the birds outside.  All I get to do is feed and watch them.

Occasionally, the parakeets annoy me.  I’ve threatened to ban them from my office, but the truth is, I’d miss them.  Some people play music while they write.  It puts them in the right mood for the scene they’re working on.  I listen to bird chirps.  I get feathers thrown around my room when the birds have a tussle.  But I like their noise, their company.  When my cat, Pywackett, was alive, he’d drape himself across my writing desk and stare at me with yellow eyes while I worked.  If I ignored him too long, he’d jump onto my keyboard and fill my computer screen with strange signs and symbols.  When he died, my daughter got dogs.  They’re not the same.  They might be loving and loyal, but they don’t have the patience to make great muses.  They bring toys for me to throw.  They bark at the mailman.  The birds hang on the side of their cage and chirp to me.  They don’t run off when a car door slams.

I think a cat is better, but the birds–by default–have taken Pywackett’s place.  They distract me enough to let my mind wander when I’m inbetween thoughts, searching for the right word or words, the right transition or hook.  But they’re constant enough to be a steady presence.  A muse is a fickle thing.  It inspires, and then you’re on your own.  It’s your job to make the thought come to life.  The birds work well enough at that.  They bob their heads and I glance over, then it’s back to prose and plot.  Symbiosis at a very primitive level.

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