View from the center


 Lynn McKeown


Season of gifts


Looking out one of our living room windows I see a small flock of cardinals at our bird feeder. It's a colorful sight in the snow of a winter day. We've had a good variety of birds this fall and winter – cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves, juncos, the ever-present house sparrows. Our neighbor on that side has several huge spruce trees that may provide a winter roost for some birds, like the sparrows and chickadees. The chickadees zip in to the feeder to grab a seed in the intervals when the larger birds aren't there.

We've had a few more unusual migratory birds such as pine siskins and purple finches – the latter one day visiting at the same time as the very similar house finches that are here year round. An occasional white-breasted nuthatch or goldfinch (in brownish winter plumage) sometimes makes an appearance.

Often during this season, though not this year, I have taken part in Christmas Bird Counts, where a group goes out and tries to find as many different species of birds as possible in one winter day in a 15-mile diameter "count circle." Like other winter activities, it gets people out for some exercise at a time of year that can be bone-chilling but at the same time exhilarating. In the bird counts we try to find some of the more uncommon birds – perhaps a lingering meadowlark or robin that has not yet gone south – along with the usual red-tailed hawks, cardinals, juncos and starlings. If we are really lucky we may find a truly unusual bird like a snowy owl.

Our cats like to watch the birds too. They sit on a table by the window making strange little noises which may translate something like: "Boy, would I like to be able to get out there and grab some of those little fluttering things!" We used to let our cats out to roam around but now keep them inside all the time, except for short spells in our unheated breezeway. When the temperature gets below 45 degrees they don't want to stay out there very long.

We enjoy our pets during these days when we are inside for long spells. Some, like Nicky, a pretty little calico cat, were strays that we took in. They can get on your nerves, as Nicky does when she occasionally eats too much and throws up. But at other times on winter days when the weather outside is frightful, it's pleasant to relax with a good book, a hot drink, and a cat on your lap.

This time of year I also like to listen to music on the radio and some of the seasonal music programs on television. The public television channels always have some programs, often with college choirs, that perform beautiful Christmas music. The Christmas hymns have to be some of the most beautiful of all church music – or of all music.

The holiday season is a time of gifts, as the cliché has it. For children, and sometimes for adults, it is a time for getting that special thing they had been wanting. For those of us a little older it may be more a matter of enjoying those everyday but still enjoyable gifts of nature and God – the good food and good fellowship of the season, the lights of holiday decorations in the winter night, the animals that liven up the wintertime landscape. I think it may be time to put out more birdseed for our flock of cardinals and sparrows. Have a Merry Christmas, happy Winter Solstice or whichever holiday you celebrate.