The Mystery Beneath The Maple Tree

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Photo by Abby Wolcott

Back in the day when we spent all our waking hours roaming the swamps and the neighborhoods, we knew everybody’s mom.  They were mostly home and they mostly wanted us out of their hair.  And that was fine with us.  We knew which ones would stir up a pitcher of Kool Aid, and which ones had an extra box of bandaids. We knew which moms were slaving over a hot stove and which ones were heading off to their next tennis match. But the dads, they were a mystery.  They all set off to work before our daily shenanigans started and pulled into their respective driveways when we had headed home for the day.  The dads did not want to be bothered by the neighborhood gang, and we were afraid of them and made ourselves scarce.  If something bad ever happened during the day we would be told in no uncertain terms to “wait till your father gets home.” We did not like that one bit, and even the neighborhood kids used that phrase when we dented their new bike or lost their Swiss army knife.  We would have to face the wrath of our friend’s dad on top of our own.  Double whammy.  We did not know what any of the dads did or what hobbies they had.  They were just tall looming figures to be avoided.  At our house we were not even allowed to talk to our dad when he came home from work  until he had his CC on the rocks in his hand. That’s just the way it was with the moms on the front line and the dads providing back up.

One day does stick out in my mind when one of the dads came home from work early. It was hot as Hades and we were hanging around a climbing tree that happened to be in his yard. He headed our way and plopped down on the picnic table next to the tree.  We watched as he rolled up his pant leg and removed his prosthetic leg while our eyes bugged out of our heads. I can still see the prosthetic wooden leg with leather straps lying prone on the picnic table.  We fell silent, eyes glued to the unattached leg, but the wheels were turning.  You just never know what will be revealed. We had heard that this dad had been a pilot in WW II, and somehow survived a crash in the jungles of the Philippines. Now we were seeing first-hand the sobering byproduct of his time overseas.  Our own dad’s war experience seemed pretty tame in comparison as he was working on codes and playing volley ball in California for most of his stint. Needless to say the wooden leg catapulted this dad into a category all his own and is still etched upon my mind.

At the bird feeder in the winter, we also don’t know what will be revealed, but it probably won’t be as startling as a prosthetic leg.   I like to think of the scene around the feeder as a microcosm of my neighborhood growing up.  There is a lot of routine activity and birds engaged in their predictable daily behavior under our watchful eye.  But every once in a while, a mystery will be unveiled. This past year, among the usual visitors, I had a redpoll, a diminutive, mostly northern dwelling bird.  He is a small finch with a yellowish beak and he sports his namesake red beret.  He has an internal pouch in which he can store food for tough times ahead and is considered one of our irruptive species.  An irruptive species refers to populations of birds that migrate south during the winter months when food is scarce in their home territories.  Some years we have had owls, crossbills and evening grosbeaks partaking in this irruptive behavior.  And we are the lucky ones to catch a glimpse of something more unusual at our feeders.  So I will keep my eyes peeled for a little mystery to take flight under our maple tree.  If my redpoll visits again I will be glad he made the flight down and lived to tell about it.  I wonder how often my childhood neighbor thought the same thing.

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