The five-year-old got a children’s guide to birds for his birthday, a birthday celebrated inside. He spent hours poring over it, teaching himself to read by sheer desire, calling out for help with words that grew longer and more complex as the weeks wore on. He memorized page after page.
The posters we draw line the walls of our dining room now — 25 at this point, one a week, the number always increasing. His tiny hand was unsure at first, lines and lettering halting and hesitant, but as weeks became months, he’s grown more confident and ambitious. Backyard birds. Sea birds. Exotics, Crayola bright. They reach the ceiling. We’re running out of space.
A new school year started and we were still inside. The teenager retreated to high school in his bedroom while we crammed a tiny desk into the corner of our dining room. Zoom kindergarten unfolded on a tablet screen, birds swarming the feeders just outside. For show and tell the 5-year-old flipped the camera and let the other kids see the birds. Zoom school isn’t all bad.
School’s start gave way to fall, leaves glowing in yellows and reds. We prepare for the unknowns of the “dark winter” ahead, holding on to fall like a rope above a pit. Cases are up everywhere, over a million in just a week. The numbers — the numbers are people, I remind myself when I check them every day — seem impossible, yet experts warn they’ll grow even larger when winter comes.
Things are changing, rapidly. We stay inside and look out.
The feeders are changing too. Migratory birds visit for stopovers unexpectedly, gone as quickly as they come. Woodpeckers, once a novelty, are now regulars; their usual supply of insects have disappeared with the onset of cold. The red-bellied woodpecker, whose head sports a shocking red stripe and whose wings are an op-art dream of black-and-white polka dots, now regularly gets in fights with the little trash birds, throwing his sharp beak in their direction when they swarm too close.
We knock ice off the bird bath — just a plastic tray on an upside-down flower pot — most mornings now. I make a mental note to research warmers. It’s been 255 days since the boys were last in school. It was a cold day that last day, and it’s cold days again now. Whole seasons inside.