20th July


Birds fascinated her. She didn’t know anything much about them, but she could have watched them all day. Birds were better – far better – than television.

If she scattered breadcrumbs on the grass, at whatever time of day, birds would arrive from all directions in less than a minute. How did they know? She had a couple of feeders hanging outside her kitchen window. She kept one filled with nuts, the other with fat balls. Small birds came to those nuts and fat balls all morning, inches away from where she sat on the other side of the glass. If she moved suddenly they flew off, but they were only away for a few moments. Greenfinches, sparrows, chaffinches, robins, tits of various denominations. If they squabbled, it did not seem to be about anything very serious: some mild breach of protocol, perhaps. They even seemed to queue, waiting their turn to hang from the feeders and chip away at the food. There were a couple of sparrows who stationed themselves underneath the feeders, catching debris, and she was surprised that only they seemed clever enough to have worked out this way of benefiting from the efforts of others. But perhaps it was demeaning. Perhaps those ground-feeding sparrows were considered vulgar, ill-mannered. Still, they too were tolerated.

We have something to learn from birds, she thought. They were around long before us and will be here long after we are gone. What have they to learn from us? Nothing. Even my putting out food for them is a mere convenience. If those feeders were empty they would go somewhere else to eat. I sit here watching them and they ignore me until I move. And their reaction is an instinct which we call fear, but that is only our name for it. It is not fear. It is survival.

When she finally got up – conscious that she could not sit there for ever, that there were many responsibilities pressing upon her – that thought remained. The birds had no fear. Why was that? Was it because they had no sense of the end of life? All they knew was to be alive. It was she who had fear.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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