Two birds make a regular appearance at the feeder just outside my front window. Cardinals. The large, red male abruptly lands, then precariously stands atop the dangling cage as he leans beyond his feet to manage a bit from the diminishing suet. He hollers endlessly, chirping as as he swings from the chain, his weight shifting, his footing anything but steady. He pecks at the seeds and loses half his take. I imagine he flies away with a messy mouth.
The grayish female, however, approaches more gracefully. She lands on the side of the feeder, smartly weighing down an edge to angle the seedblock closer to her beak. The rig swings some, but she evens her stance to ease the pendulum. Then she nibs a few bites, rises, and looks around as she chews. Her poise is regal, certain. She goes in for another bite, then darts off.
Maybe these two cardinals are a bonded pair? Cardinals are known to be “socially monogamous.” They are definitely the same two—the only set of cardinals, in fact, who, from what I can tell, frequent this feeder. Even though my yard is alive with all sorts of birds, the only others nibbling from this feeder are a couple Carolina wrens and an occasional robin. They all put on a good show, which is a great way for me to kill time when I ought to be doing something else. Like right now, for example, I ought to be finalizing some new content for a workshop I am conducting next week. And if not that, I could be nosing back into the novel that’s so close to being done. But instead I watch the birds. I guess it’s still better than scrolling through my Instagram feed like a cat mindlessly pawing an infinite toilet paper roll.
On Friday, I drove my partner Katie to the airport for her family’s gathering in Arizona. In the days leading up to her departure, she rummaged through our house, separating her things from mine. She boxed it all up and tucked everything in her closet. Though her family vacation would only last a week, she hadn’t purchased a return ticket. She didn’t have much of a plan, but she also didn’t have a plan to come back. Not to live, anyhow. We agreed that if I decided to move somewhere before she figured out what to do with her stuff, she’d arrange for her things to go to her mom’s or sister’s. A local drop-off would be easy.
In August, 2010, I met Katie while running a small trail race. I was in tip-top shape, in the throes of training for my third 100-miler, and still, she breezed on past me. Back then I was in the running industry, and I couldn’t help but notice her old shoes and ratty cotton tee. A novice. I remember thinking, “There’s no way she’ll keep that pace,” but she did, and she ended up taking second overall.
At the finish line I struck up a conversation with her. Stumbled over my words and talked way too much about myself. Took a sip from my water bottle and spilled half of it down the front of my shirt. I asked her a litany of questions then didn’t retain answers. She told me her name, but I promptly forgot it. We shook sweaty hands. Took me another three weeks to find someone who knew who she was and didn’t mind connecting us via email. We met for a beer, after which I told a friend I am either totally in love, or want nothing to do with her. Katie was a conundrum. But that’s what was so appealing.
In our first week I wrote her a note that said something like this: “We barely know each other, but I don’t want to mince words. I plan to be with you for a long, long time.” We spent the next nine years together. Nine utterly delightful years. We don’t want to split up, but for a handful of reasons that make good sense to us, we’ve decided to do so anyhow.
Right now I am sitting in the front room of my duplex apartment, surrounded by memories. That wooden spoon over there I carved while she sat adjacent, reading. The foam roller which we aptly nicknamed “the torture device” stands unused—she’d roll out her legs before her daily bike ride. Then there’s that insulated reusable bag, the one we used for an occasional home delivery of shiitakes. We’d put it on the porch in the morning and come home to a full bag of mushrooms. That night we’d inevitably have vegan BLTs (and IPAs). One of our favorite together meals.
I’m thinking of how Katie and I did things. Rarely together, but always connected. Now I wish we had approached things differently. Been a bit more intentional with our time. Truly strategized ways to ensure our wildly independent lives maintained a purposeful braiding with each others’. We neglected our togetherness. Took it for granted.
I sit here as my tea gets cold and watch the cardinals zip through the frame before me. The male stops in, and then later on, the female. They are rarely together, or so it seems. One out living its life while the other does the same.
A thump from outside draws my attention. It’s the male. This time he’s landed so hard that the feeder is banging into the roof. He grips tight, his glorious red wings flapping as he finds purchase on the wobbly top of the cage. It’s funny, but it’s not. I shake my head. “You’re a fool,” I say. “You’re a goddamned fool.”
Photo Credit: © Beth and Nature, Garden Life