I like to rise when the sun she rises

Monday 4 July 2016 — anchored on the back porch — Independence Day

You know how it is when a haunting tune gets stuck in your head? Well, I have one buzzing around in there. It’s “Country Life,” the old chanty celebrating the pleasantries of rural England. It was collected in the Yorkshire Dales by that famous guitarist and sheepdog trainer Mick Taylor (formerly of the Rolling Stones but not to be confused with Mick Jagger). I favor the Waterson Family’s arrangement. I’ll sing a few lines. Surely you’ll know it.

“I like to rise when the sun she rises 
Earl-eye in the morning.
And I like to hear them small birds singing
Merrily upon their laylums.”

I have absolutely no idea what a “laylum” is. Some say the word means “fallow ground,” others maintain it means “chorus line,” still others speculate it might mean “perch.” If you know the definition of the word, please be so kind as to close this gap in my education.

I find myself humming this catchy tune as I sit on the back porch watching the birds, earl-eye in the morning. For my 70th birthday I bought myself a bird feeder. This is no ordinary bird feeder. This is a patented Squirrel Buster “Legacy” imported from Quebec.

According to the promotional material (in English), it’s guaranteed squirrel-proof. It’s hassle-free, easy to fill, easy to clean, chew-proof, weight-adjustable, and comes with the latest Seed Saving Technology. There’s a “weight mechanism” (a spring) that shuts tiny doors under the weight of heavier critters. It has normal perches and a “shroud” (a metal mesh) which provides “clinging footholds.” It has Seed Tube Ventilation (air holes). It has a Detachable Component System (meaning it comes apart) and a Negative Grip Tube (a sliding plastic hose) to prevent squirrels raiding from above. It’s dishwasher safe, but do not microwave. 

How could I resist such a marvel of modern technology? It was well worth the price. 

The instructions (I do sometimes read instructions, though rarely) say that the birds should eventually discover the feeder within four weeks. The squirrels arrived in five minutes. They had first to figure out how to get at the seed. After several bumbling attempts, they succeeded. Persistence pays off, it seems, even among squirrels. 

One clever squirrel found a particularly bouncy branch and used it as a catapult to propel himself through the air with the greatest of ease in the general direction of the feeder. He purposely whacked the feeder as he whizzed past. Seed fell to the ground. He proceeded to eat his hard-earned lunch. 

Not only was this particular squirrel mechanically gifted, but he was also a born leader. He promptly taught all the other squirrels his “flying squirrel technique.” My backyard squirrels have become the rodent equivalent of the Flying Wallendas. 

Then came a marauding cackle of iridescent grackles (OK, I made up the phrase but if you can have a “murder of crows” and a “pride of peacocks,” why not a “cackle of grackles”?). The grackles took a few hours to figure out the issue of the weight baffle. Now, instead of landing on the perches, they flutter like hummingbirds at the seed portals. Grackles, I’ve learned, live by the principle of “whatever works.” 

I was beginning to think that there were no songbirds in all of Falmouth. Then I heard the melodious sound of wild turkeys. Yes, dear readers. There is good news. The turkeys are back in town. The undertaker next door reported that one of the females escaped the Department of Wildlife Management purge and had nested in a quiet corner of the funeral parlor property. Here she was now, in my backyard, followed by six chicks. Maybe my new hobby of bird watching isn’t so bad after all. 

It took the songbirds another day to find the feeder. But once they found it, they arrived in large numbers. I figure birds chat with each other about a new restaurant in town, as do all Cape Codders. 

On a fine summer morning, I sit on the porch with a cup of Dippin’ Donuts coffee, read the papers, and watch the bird feeder. In the past week I have spied nuthatches, chickadees, goldfinches, titmouse, finches, and sparrows; but fortunately no pigeons, starlings, or blackbirds. I did see one blue jay, two mourning doves, and a pair of cardinals. 

Once, long ago, I was having breakfast with an early-morning visitor at the rectory. Looking out the window into the back yard, I commented, “I see a cardinal.” “Of course you do,” responded my guest. “I’m sitting right here at the table!” The guest was Humberto Cardinal Medeiros. Oops. 

Father Ray Cambra joined me on the porch one morning. “Isn’t the local wildlife wonderful?” I asked excitedly. “I suppose so,” he said with well-controlled enthusiasm, “but what’s wrong with that squirrel over there? Wait. That’s no squirrel. That’s a rat!”

Alas, I no longer like to sit on my porch when the sun she rises, earl-eye in the morning. 

Bummer.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.


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