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  • Constantina Alexander

Blackbirds and black moods


My friendly local garden blackbird

I am getting a little predictable in my habits, especially in the early mornings. I get up before the cars. The Garw Valley has only one road to the top of the mountain so there is no through traffic and early morn it is blissfully silent. Before I even brew my tea I have various creatures to look after: the cat who spends most of the night silhouetted in the bedroom doorway glaring in my general direction; my fishies who know, even in the dark, if I am up and proceeed to slap tails on the water surface; the giant African snail who has just resurrected himself; my plants; the dog and the garden birds. And food is all they want. I am The Feeder. Sounds like some kind of superhero nemesis. They have trained me well, I can't even think of my own breakfast till they are all taken care of. Crafty creatures, the lot of them.


My wild birds are especially communicative. Lurking en masse in the wild rose at the end of the garden, the shrub is alive with hoppings, flappings, tweetings and chirrupings. My appearance in the basement doorway alerts the Signalman aka the blackbird. Emerging from my outhouse armed precariously with buckets of suet treats: balls infested with mealworm, pellets of various kinds, Robin friendly bird seed and peanuts, I stagger to the feeding station. Half my grocery bill is bird food.



It's a sad fact of my life, I am now one of the little crowd of people milling around the wild bird seed counter at Wilko's or Home Bargains. We seem to be a quiet, furtive species and nod silently at each other knowing we all have the same passion/obsession which, in truth, is covert manipulation by our avian overlords who rule our gardens and direct our choices - pink suet pellets are the top munchies, by far. We grab our bags and buckets and quickly nip to the tills, hurriedly wanting to return home to feed our feathered friends.


The Signalman, pictured above, is a relatively tame blackbird who brings his Missus every morning. He will come close by if I stand very still and allowed me to take his photo from a few feet away. His sidekick is Robin, (#1, #2, #3 or #4) is one of several. My ancient Ladybird Book of Garden Birds insist they are quite territorial and will allow no interlopers. My garden is small - but they often visit altogether, so I either have territorially altruistic robins or Ladybird is wrong. When I do not come down on time and food is scarce he flies up to the first floor where I sit at the kitchen window guiltily slurping tea before my duties are fulfilled. He flaps judiciously for a few moments, his beady eye fixed upon mine, knowing I will immediately get up and redeem myself by feeding them. One morning the Signalman flew up and performed the same trick. A learned behaviour between two species? It would not surprise me. These little fellows are full of wiles and I feel they get as much fun out of training me as I get out of observing them.



So what of black moods? Simply this: hermity living in silence for a large portion each day can be a testing occupation. When I limit my worldly distractions then I am left entirely with the anathema of Self. The Desert Fathers and Mothers moved away from towns and cities to find a quiet place. Yet 'inner noise' was a battlefield they soon discovered. What we have going on inside our heads becomes all too apparent and one has to become at peace with it. My favourite old friend from centuries ago, The Baal Shem Tov, of Eastern European Ashkenazi tradition, holds that the yetzer hara tries very hard to discourage us by making us feel depressed, or doubtful or bad in some way. We could name the yetzer hara as Satan (the Accuser), or voices from the past, or whatever modern term there is for the battle with the mind and thinking. Our inner thoughts can be like clouds obscuring the bliss of truth we are aiming to discover. In order to escape negative thoughts, if we choose not to indulge them, we distract ourselves with friends, TV, gaming, work - anything to prevent us having to deal with the inner beasties.


Yet it is worth persevering and facing our foe from within. Nature soothes us. My little birds, soothe me. I can feel the pressure of the yetzer hara but after a few moments sitting in the garden with my humble friends I am refreshed, positive and am able to complete my day's work. These creatures have instigated a certain rhythm to my day like a prayer for all of creation and they are my co-journeymen on my inner travels. God bless them!


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