Winter’s Drunken Finale
by Sonia Linebaugh
Into the faded time of year, cedar waxwings flew. They arrived on a day when winter had leached all hint of living green from the Bay landscape. A colorless wind bore them by the scores into the trees and bushes of our neighborhood in search of berries.
Though the birds are said to call constantly in a high-pitched single note, that’s not what alerted me to their presence. It was the soft thud-thump as they collided with our many-windowed house.
From my side of the window, I saw tight flocks of vibrant energy alight and lift from any tree with berries. All the usual birds stirred as well, until the air was filled with a flying, darting, chirping urgency.
A dozen waxwings settled in the remnants of an overgrown privet hedge heavy with tiny blue berries. My husband and I perched on a table by the window no more than six feet from the party. I slid the window open for a better view. Intent on berry-eating, the birds made no calls and paid no attention to us.
In field guides, the birds appear soft brown giving way to white and yellow on the belly. Their winter colors were more muted at this distance: soft purplish brown with faintly yellow belly, a bright yellow band at the tip of the tail feathers, a conspicuous red spot under the wing of a few. Black mask, bright eye, tufted crest on the top of the head, black bill and legs.
The birds made no sound but stayed at their work. They gobbled and hopped, flew and returned. Branches swayed with their coming and going.
Soft bumps were heard on an upper window. Later, we discovered the effect of those thumps. A half-dozen birds lay apparently dead next to the new glass-paneled railing of an upstairs porch. Dismayed, my husband tossed them into the ivy below. We hung a blanket over the rail, left the dead until later and hurried off to an appointment. On our return, the birds had disappeared, all but one that was truly dead.
A neighbor told us the rest of the story. Drunk on fermented berries, the birds had floundered into the glass. Drunk, they were stunned, not dead, and recovered themselves to fly off in search of the next berry event with the rest of their flock. They left behind a colorful memory to brighten the final pale moments of winter.
Today the fresh green of daffodils pokes from the earth.
Freelance writer, artist and teacher Sonia Linebaugh has shared all those skills with Bay Weekly since 1993. She reflects from Fairhaven.