Monday, November 27, 2006

More Than Just A Tree

Our front yard Flowering Crab ceased being a tree several years ago. That's why it is still standing. And why it will continue to stand for at least as long as we live here.

What it has become is one of the principal meeting and eating spots for the birds and squirrels of our neighborhood. And this year it is being made into a permanent residence by one of the smaller of our avian guests.

The twenty foot tall woody perennial plant was in its present location, right outside of our family room in the prime viewing area from Marsha's and my favorite seats, when we bought this house in 1977. At that time it was just a tree. A tree that, quietly and without any fanfare, did its little tree things - growing its tiny year-around pomes, flashing its umbel racemes in all their pale pink glory near Mother's Day, showing its dark green above/pale green below leaves until October, and standing naked against the cold winter climate until its annual spring rebirth.

Then, sometime back, we added a bird feeder. I think it was one of the Droll Yankee plastic cylinders with several stories of perches. Birds came. We watched them. Squirrels came. We watched them also. Squirrels decimated the feeder. We replaced it. More birds came - finches, cardinals, jays and titmouse. As well as squirrels. And a seemingly endless series of replacement feeders.

And the tree never complained - not even once.

We added another food container - this one made of pottery. Birds that preferred to dine in small private rooms began showing up - like chickadees. Along with more squirrels equipped with different gymnastic skills than their predecessors.

At night we could hear our elm tree creaking and groaning. And listen to our oaks snapping their branches in anger at the squirrels that resided therein. But only total silence, perhaps stoic (who knows), from our faithful Malus hybrid.

Wind chimes were added. Plus a wooden helix decoration that spun at dizzying speeds given to us by our son. This temporarily distracted the tree rodents who felt that this new carnival ride had been added solely for their amusement. We also had the tree discretely trimmed, diagnosed, and injected by expert arborists. Nevertheless, year after year we continued to notice more and more branches drying and dying, and sparser spring floral displays - while our visitor population became larger and more varied.

Word must have gotten out about this welcoming set of branches that provide good food, a little shelter, a comfortable setting, and a place to meet old and new friends.

But not all of the visitors had fellowship in mind. The higher branches of the crab became a frequent resting spot for our neighborhood hawk that periodically would ravage and savage the pigeons that dined at the foot of the tree - although never within our sight. And just a couple of weeks ago did the same to one of the squirrels that supped at both the higher altitude and basement level banquet facilities.

But this time, thanks to the timely notification of our neighbor Becky on whose front apron the dismemberment was occurring, we were able to totally witness our own neighborhood Nova moment.

And now, largely thanks to the decaying state of the tree, it looks as if we will be having our first permanent tenant. A male Downy Woodpecker, initially drawn to our place by a suet feeder we added last winter and maintained throughout the warmer weather, has been busily burrowing his way into the largest and deadest of the branches and defiantly defending his penthouse from Nuthatches and other interested tourists.

At the moment he looks to be setting up a bachelor pad. But I suspect that a good looking bird like him, with a nice condo in a prime location such as this one, will pretty much have his pick of the chicks when breeding season arrives. Until then we'll probably have to put up with the normal noises you would expect from any other single guy castle.

But whatever hubbub this tiny member of the Family Picidae makes will be one hundred times more pleasant than the sound of the winter wind whistling through the empty space if our favorite horticultural hangout wasn't there anymore.
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

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