A few months after moving into this streamside cottage, I was sitting on the narrow deck which spans the width of the building and overlooks the big riffle and pool below. I’d already come to think of this end as the front of the house, and the river immediately beyond as the best part of my yard.
The midday sun was bright and warm, the high September sky a soft Dresden blue reminiscent of my grandmother’s eyes. Looking across the narrow channel to the trees on the island, it was plain to see that summer had run it course and autumn was already remaking the landscape. Here and there I noted the first brush strokes of lemon yellow on the sycamore leaves, and a singular scarlet flame in the twining Virginia creeper.
I felt uncommonly at ease. No lord of any stately manor ever stood upon a high terrace and viewed his sprawling estate below with greater pleasure. Not for the first time, I thought how love so often awakens in us the desire to live a long life. Whether it’s love of a person or a place, something stirs inside and we suddenly wish for endless time to enjoy, ample opportunity to savor that which fills our heart to overflowing with wonder and contentment.
Please, God, we beg…please, please, please lengthen our allotted span that we might know completely this generous blessing.
That’s how I felt upon moving here—and what I was thinking about that glorious day on the cusp of the seasonal change four years ago; cognizant, too, that time flows ever onward, like the water purling over rifflestones in my beloved river, aware that’s it only through grace that next year, next week, or even the next minute becomes ours to claim.
Perhaps it was these bittersweet musings that caused me a certain confusion when the first bird swooped quickly across the stream, dipping low over the pool, then rose, spun in midair, made a second pass back across the pool and returned to land in a hackberry leaning over the channel.
Hey—what was that bird? Not a swift, swallow, or martin. Flycatcher? Nahhh. And why did it look so familiar?
Another bird made a fast, twisting series of passes over the pool, was joined by a second, and then there were three or four zipping and diving like midday bats above the water. As they flew they revealed flashes of bright cadmium yellow on their tails, as if the tips had been dipped in paint. Sometimes I fancied I could spot a bit of red on the wings.
The feeding birds were taking pale, rather large mayflies which I could occasionally see coming off the water. I’ve watched other birds—mostly swifts and swallows—do this along trout streams all over the country.
Gezze…no wonder they looked familiar! I’ve seen cedar waxwings feeding all my life—except they’d usually been feeding on fruits or berries. Moreover, they were typically in the brushy borders adjacent to fields and meadows—noisily, cheerfully, eating whatever they could find.
I simply hadn’t expected to see them acting like flycatchers over a river. Then I remembered how I’d once watched a bunch of hungry cedar waxwings save a neighbor’s apple crop.
A plague of canker worms had begun devouring the leaves on the dozen old apple trees in his back yard. Suddenly one morning, like a phalanx of caped superheros in a comic book, a flock of cedar waxwings came flying in to the rescue.
Over the course of two or three days, the birds—perhaps thirty total—decimated the canker worm population. In short order it went from several worms on each and every limb to virtually zero. In fact, if even a single canker worm survived their onslaught, my neighbor and I couldn’t find it during an hour of searching afterwards.
Of course, most of the time cedar waxwings do eat various berries and fruits, including the glaucous blue berries of their namesake red cedar. Sometime to the point of apparent gluttony. Numerous sources report finding waxwings on the ground underneath a fruit or berry tree, having so overindulged they simply fell off the limb—helpless, unable to fly, stomachs and throats stuffed with berries…and still holding even more berries in their mouths and beaks, waiting for room to swallow!
What I’d observed was nothing new…just new to me.