Toppled from My Safety Perch
By Dolores Eyler
Every morning I am awakened by the jangling dog tags of my aged Border Terrier, Justy, telling me to get up and let her out into the backyard. For years, she would then hop up onto the bed, and settle down for another hour of sleep. Now, I assist her, because her arthritic knees can no longer make the leap from the floor, to the bench, to the bed. I, too, crawl back under the covers, after opening the drapes to watch the morning flutter of activity at the bird feeder right outside the window.
They are polite birds, waiting their turn on nearby branches or just below, pecking up the seeds falling from the swaying feeder. Meanwhile, a frustrated brown squirrel with a dark brown belly (my Tennessee-born husband says he looks like a coon dog) tries his darnedest to figure out my squirrel–proof feeder. He crawls on the top, leaps from the ground, or hangs upside down from the feeder’s dogwood branch, all to no avail. Until this week.
Recently settling back into bed, I awaited the usual flurry of finches, doves, cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, woodpeckers, and blue jays, which delightfully start my day. Twice, there was even a Cooper’s Hawk, who landed in the dry bird bath, scaring all the birds away. Again, they were nowhere in sight. Instead, that pesky little rodent had struck gold by standing on tiptoe on a recently sprouted azalea branch right under the feeder. Smart and dexterous, he very lightly pressed on the perching bar, which opened up the feeder, dumping seed straight into his greedy little throat. And it wasn’t just a snack; he hung on for a feast.
I leapt out of bed, strode into the kitchen, grabbed my garden shears, and marched outside. He was nowhere in sight. I surveyed the offending branch. Snap! His dining perch was gone!
Back in the bedroom, an acrobatic display of pure squirrel frustration played out on the other side of the window. Returned, he kept hopping back onto the azalea bush, walked out the branch, stretched up as far as he could go, and whoops! Down he went. It was as if he was walking a pirate’s plank, over and over and over. Eventually tiring of that route, he crawled up into the dogwood, jumped on top of the feeder, and then hung upside down, parallel, poking it with his little paw. If squirrels could talk, I would have gotten an earful.
One of my sisters hates squirrels. I don’t, but I do prefer birds. However, I started feeling sorry for the little guy, with his frustration and confusion, even though he could get a pretty full meal just by scavenging around under the feeder.
The longer I watched him, the more I realized I am currently experiencing that squirrel’s dilemma, for I, too, have been toppled from my safety perch and left hanging, surprised and confused. I regularly partook of the vast buffet of activities New York City and Rye had to offer, gorging on theater, restaurants, concerts, book clubs, church, and frequent outings with family and friends. No more. I have been cut loose, comforted only by everyone else in the exact same quandary.
Another sister once told me that I operate at the speed of a hamster on steroids. Now, I have slowed way down because really, what’s my hurry? My daily walks have become daily strolls. My five-minute telephone calls to my 96-year-old dad have become 30-minute virtual visits. Our evening meals, once dominated by the news and “Jeopardy”, are now candlelit occasions, accompanied by Pandora. Slowing down has brought some moments of pleasure amidst this evil pandemic.
In my neighborhood, some backyard seating has been transferred to the front, to catch sight of a friend walking by. Next door, a new trampoline appeared, exercise and fun for the household of homebound children. Their laughter and squeals of delight are truly music to my ears. And I regularly praise this season, with its blooming trees and warming days. Thank heavens we were not entering winter as we began these infectious times.
My dad, a retired career Army officer, told of recently being in line at the commissary at Joint Base Lewis McCord, near Tacoma, Wash. He said he noticed he was the only one in line not wearing a mask. Personnel at the retirement village where he lives had given him one, but it had ties, which his stiffened hands could not manage. Wearing his World War II Veteran hat (he enlisted at age 17, the day after Pearl Harbor), he shuffled back to his car, afraid he would not be allowed entrance. “Sir,” said a young GI, after acknowledging my dad’s hat. “Come to my car, I have an unused mask for you.”
I hang on to these stories, surges of hope among the horrific: a dear friend, recovering from cancer; a long-lost ring found in a chair cushion; the banging of pots to acknowledge all of the heroic people on the front lines; my grandchildren’s new rescue dog, Trout; the cross made of flowers in the yard of Rye Presbyterian Church on Easter Sunday.
And yes, frequently the togetherness is driving us crazy. A friend, in her 70s, told me she and her husband’s recent argument developed into a food fight. She doesn’t even remember what it was about. You just have to laugh.