Wax Wings?

Posted 7.10.19

SHAWVILLE, QC | The older I get, the more unavoidably obvious are changes in our climate. Perhaps for someone who lives mostly indoors, in a city condo maybe, or those who hardly notice such things as trees and snowfall, birds and heat waves, as they rush from car to work to car to home ... perhaps it's understandable that the whole idea of a climate catastrophe is irrelevant, or a luxury, almost, when the daily chaos in just making ends meet eats anyone's time ... perhaps the climate is not speaking to them, not saying a thing. Is our climate is mute or it's us who aren't listening, looking around?

Our house is surrounded by trees, and, yes, "a branch could fall on your roof at any time!," but the trees and their big branches shade the house and attract a lot of birds. We feed them in the winter, and watch. Believe it or not, the feeder's as interesting as most fictional lives from Hollywood and Malibu Beach. This year seems a good year for birds -- good sign.

Our neighbour has an old wild cherry in her backyard and it attracts more than its share of birds once the cherries plump up. Every June, around Fête nationale, the cherries are fat but still green -- just right, apparently, for Cedar Waxwings.

They arrive quietly, zeep-zeep-zeep flitting branch to branch -- not a huge flock as starlings might be, but a dozen in this old tree. I watch them for as long as my spare time allows. Stunning! -- with their sleek, rear tuft, their bandit's patch across their eyes ... zeep-zeep-zeep, and in a few days they clean the tree of cherries. So this year, I watched the grosbeaks come and go, beauties, too, and this spring an exception -- Indigo Buntings!

But this year, by Canada Day, I hadn't seen a waxwing. The cherries were plentiful, like so many other fruits, cones, and blossoms, thanks to our long, cool wet spring. And then, July 5, the first Waxwing. I called my wife. We watched for a few minutes, big smiles, and then back to work. Here's one unsung benefit in working from home: seeing the birds coming and going. We knew that after this scout, there'd be a flock and the cherries would disappear. Tomorrow, a treefull of zeep-zeep-zeep.

The next day, no waxwings. Not even the first returned. The second day, none appeared, none on the third, nor the fourth, nor the rest of the week.

The cherries are ripe, and the occasional robin shows up for a meal. This morning, I looked, easily saw the red cherries across the old tree. No waxwings.

There are surely explanations. It wasn't long ago that the swallows stopped coming. They could be real pests, with their sculpted-clay nests in impossible places. There are plenty of mosquitoes and black flies -- the swallows' favourite, I understand. Or maybe not. There was no mayfly hatch this year, nor last. Fly-fishing's a hobby of mine so I pay attention to the mayfly hatch. There hasn't been one for a few years.

Ah, yes, our changing climate ... species loss ... habitat loss ... forest into corn fields ... houses everywhere, tossed like litter, almost ... don't mention the floods and storms ... or is this just one more big change, like kids all staying indoors nowadays to play on their screens instead of biking in the streets, by a creek, a ball field? Is this just the cost of eight billion hungry people on this planet?

Somehow, the disappearance of so many migrating song-birds, and of so many insects -- remember when our windshields would be covered in bugs after an evening drive? Is this change in our climate, this warming of everything, the storms, floods and melting polar ice caps, is it just a normal process of life's constant change? Is it one more thing we can ignore? Is it something merely to argue about at elections?

But if that's all true, why is it now called a climate catastrophe? These changes are extreme, compounding, and unpredictably chaotic. If we don't make this the big election issue, who will? Waxwings?


Copyright © 2019 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles 7.18.19