At the little house in the big woods, whatever the season, the backyard is aflutter with birds, and it gives me great joy to watch them as they flit from the trees to the bird feeder. Finches, woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, and many other birds come to eat. Our friends Beth and John are just as crazy about birds as we are, and last year on a warm spring day, we spent a happy afternoon on the patio, watching the birds.
In the winter, of course, I watch from inside, often as I am doing dishes. Winter is a hungry time for birds, and there are always a lot clustered at the feeders.
The other day, as I was watching the birds in the backyard, I remembered the time I freed the birds at Woolworth’s in Waterville. I was three or four years old, and in those far-gone, innocent times, I was allowed to look at the toys and the pet section by myself while my mother did her shopping. I was a quiet child. not prone to running around and screaming and breaking things. My mother felt as though she could trust me, but you know what they say about the quiet ones.
On the day I set the birds free, I watched the bright fish swim in their tanks and listened to the bubbling sound that came from the water. I admired the silky hamsters, curled in a ball, their little noses twitching from time to time. Then I came to the birds, tweeting and jumping in their cages. I remember feeling sorry for them, trapped in such a small space.
Without hesitation, I undid the latch of one the cages and opened the door. With a swoosh, the birds flew from the cage, and their quick motion startled me, making me realize that what I had done was probably not a good thing, at least from the store’s point of view.
I found my mother, but I didn’t tell her about the birds until we were at the lunch counter, and two parakeets went by.
“Look at those parakeets,” my mother said. “I wonder who let them out.”
I confessed right away. “I let the birds out.”
“Shush,” she said, and I could see that she was trying not to smile.
Our food came, and as we ate, birds flew over our heads, and I could hear them twittering. No doubt they were eventually caught and returned to their cages. But for a short time, anyway, they had escaped their confinement and did what birds are born to do—fly.
When we got home, my mother scolded me, just a little, telling me I was never to let the birds out again, and I didn’t. But to this day, I see my younger self and my quick little fingers, unlatching the cage door and letting the birds fly free.
And it still makes me smile to think of it.