by Audrey Y. Scharmen
Among my childhood memories are fragments of a story about a tree of golden apples. I can't recall the details; it may have been a tale recounted by my mother: one created just for me. Whatever, it has remained one of my favorite fantasies, one that wanders in and out of my daydreams still.
And so it was on Shrove Tuesday when a great flock of cedar waxwings came in the wake of a winter night to perch in the naked limbs of an old ash tree on the creek shore outside my window and reenact my fantasy. Their yellow feathered breasts thrust toward the rising sun were set aglow by the new dawn. Row upon row, wing to wing, in perfect alignment they were for one brief glittering moment my mother's fabled golden apples.
These beautiful little gypsy-birds frequent my yard in winter, coming and going sporadically. During freezes, they come tumbling suddenly into the early morning, like shards of the sun, to sup the warm water from the backyard bird bath. Their appearances are great theater: Clad in golden garb, feathered crests and tiny black masks, they are Fitzgerald's flappers, Mardi Gras revelers and the cast of a bizarre Busby Berkeley musical. So it is not surprising that they are so steeped in lore.
According to the Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds, they engage in games: sitting several in a row on a branch and passing a cherry from one to another until a participant swallows it. Then they begin again. They have a charming courtship ritual that involves passing a petal or insect to and fro their chosen one. And it is said they will sometimes pluck a hair from a sleeping maiden for a nest.
I have seen them nibble on the pink petals of blossoms in my crabapple tree in spring. Watched them grow drunk on pokeberries at autumnfest. Seen them flutter about in a February flurry catching snowflakes in their beaks. They are indeed the stuff of poetry and fairy tales.
On that festive day of the golden apples when last I saw the birds, I grudgingly left on a planned vacation, worrying that they would leave during my absence. I went away to that bland southern place of seamless days and undistinguished seasons where old people gather in winter. It is the habitat of many other exotic creatures as well. But no waxwings are there.
Home again on the Chesapeake, I walked on a sunless morning in a woodland filled with snowflakes, and I imagined in the thick foliage of tall hollies the soft lisping conversations of waxwings that is so like a chorus of toy Cracker Jack whistles.
Although I can't see them, I am certain they are there, someplace backstage,
rehearsing for apple blossom time .
Editor's note: On the last day of winter, a flock of cedar waxwings fresh from stripping a holly tree of its berries appeared on a bud-swelling apple tree in Fairhaven.
| Issue 12 |
Volume VII Number 12
March 25-31, 1999
New Bay Times
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