The lasting lesson of a bird-treat tree

It's been years, but I still remember how the whites grew all around my husband's eyes when I showed him a magazine's fantastic gingerbread-house project.

"We could do this!" I said. "Together!" Taking advantage of his momentary speechlessness, I spoke faster than a used-car salesman on a 30-second TV commercial. "An exact miniature of our own house.... Unique! Fun! We'll just have our blueprints minimized at the copying place. Templates from cardboard ... basic gingerbread mixture ... windows are caramelized sugar ... roof is copper foil. Shrubs and trees are gumdrops and the little sidewalk ...."

About this time, Craig recovered his voice. He said (and I quote): "Are you out of your ever-loving mind?!"

I took that as a "No, thanks."

The thing is, ever afterward he was remarkably receptive to my ideas. I suspect it's the old easy-act-to-follow theory, as demonstrated when my friend wanted one of my dog's puppies.

"I hope your husband will go for it," I worried.

"Oh, he will," she assured me. "I've been talking about having another baby ever since our youngest became a teen. John will be ecstatic to see me settling for a golden retriever instead!" Sure enough, she was right.

So, a few Dec. 26ths ago, when my favorite Christmas card and an intriguing idea in one of our bird books intersected, Craig got his "This could have been a lot worse" look on his face.

"No problem," he said. He looked at the card again, a bright miniature painting of an evergreen tree covered with colorful, frolicking birds. "It's not going to look exactly like that," he warned me.

"Oh sure," I said. "Obviously, we'll never see a cardinal here, but we still have bluejays and thrushes and juncos. It'll still be pretty. Besides, the birds will appreciate it."

Craig hauled our Christmas tree outside and nailed a big wooden X to the bottom while I trotted off to the kitchen with the bird book in my hand. There, I began whipping up a multitude of avian delicacies: Orange and grapefruit quarters. Pine cones packed with a peanut butter-oatmeal-raisin concoction. Apple slices. Peanuts on wire hangers. The popcorn and cranberry stringing took me a few evenings and several pricked fingers.

When the tree was finally decked out with bird treats, Craig said, "Wow! It looks great."

"Just wait until the birds discover it," I said. "It's going to be awesome!"

I took to hanging around the living room, staring out the window, so I could catch the initial rush of birds to their new tree. But it wasn't happening. The birds were there, all right, on the ground. At the feeder. Hanging on the suet holder. Sipping at the birdbath. Twittering and hopping around in the trees. Every tree except one: mine.

"Any success with the bird-treat tree?" Craig would ask when he got home in the evening.

"They haven't found it yet," I'd tell him. "Let's try not filling the feeder." And "Let's try taking the suet down." And "Let's try not scattering seed." And "How about if we just scatter seed under the bird-treat tree, but nowhere else?"

But no matter what, the birds continued to be oblivious to our tree full of refreshments.

"Look!" I'd call from the living-room window. "You're flying right by it! Goodies galore! No need to scavenge! You're missing out!"

The wind blew. The rains came. Time passed.

How many times did I get into rain gear to run out and prop up the tree again, then pick up and rearrange the pine cones and peanuts and popcorn-and-cranberry chains? Umpteen bazillion.

How many times did I see a bird on (never mind snacking at) the bird-treat tree? Zero, zilch, none, never, nada. Not once.

"I don't get it," I said, a time or 10. "The bird book says ...."

"Evidently," my husband said, "those birds aren't reading the same book."

About the 15th time Craig said, "Well, should I haul the old bird-treat tree down to the burn pile?" I caved.

"Haul the stupid thing off," I said. Then I said something I've already lived to regret: "Do me a big favor? The next time I get another bird-brained craft idea from one of these magazines or books, remind me of this fiasco, OK?"

He's been only too happy to oblige.

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