Ode to life’s blue jays

The scolding I received the other day was loud, incessant and sure, telling me I’d walked into a place where at least one being thought I was unwelcome.

I’d heard such scoldings ringing from trees in woodlots throughout the countryside over the years, this time of year those blue jays for whatever reasons seeming to be particularly concerned about who walks in their territory.

The jay’s noisy announcement of my approach that day didn’t matter as much as it has on some other occasions; that day my being there only a time to breathe in the fall’s colors and the special smell of the woods’ damp autumn duff. There have been times when I’ve tried to stalk through the woods during a hunt only to have a jay unnecessarily flapping its beak to announce my approach to every creature in the section.

Something about that blue jay’s yelping scold gave me a feeling of comfort, though. It took a bit of consideration but, after a while, I realized it was because that old blue jay still was there to yell at me.

We’re abandoned by many of our friends this time of the year, those of pretty feather and song flitting away to climes south. I look up at my humming bird feeder hanging lonely in the eve, the last humming bird having sipped its nectar a week or more earlier. I’ve left those feeders hang with the chance that a late-migrating humming bird might be passing through and need a little jolt of sugar-laden water.

Out a little farther from the window, oriole-feeding stations sit emptied for the season, the orioles having departed long before the humming birds’ departures. My wife Dee will be happy to know that I’ll again be using more grape jelly on my toast than I’m feeding to the orioles.

Even the finches are visiting less, me missing their golds and reds flitting across the feeders with colors that blended so well with the lush grass below.

The blackbirds have long ago departed, having flocked loudly on bent and dried corn-tassels before their sudden quietness a sign that their wings would explode into a collective whooshing and their disappearance until spring.

The robins, those quirky wonders that seem to show up when I least expect it. There hasn’t been one around for a bit, but a straggler or two always seems to stop through after the season’s first snow falls – them apparently suddenly waking to the notion that getting drunk on late-hanging berries and apples might not be as important as staying warm.

But then there’s that blue jay, that bully of a bird that can be so loud and obnoxious; its brightness not denied though its heart seeming to be filled with anger. He and others like him will remain around the woods and the farmyard, continuing to be visitors around my feeders even as the old willow weeps its tears of golden leaves and as we see the first white flurries fall from the clouds.

The jay, the cardinals, the woodpeckers, the nuthatches and the sparrows will continue being here for me, reminding me of so many of this northern Driftless Area countryside’s people.

Summer’s fun and pretty songbirds will flirt and sing here for a while and then be gone, to return at their whim when the weather’s warmed. But that special group will be here for the duration, giving me their own measures of comfort whether in summer’s swelter or winter’s freeze.

Erling, whose family homesteaded and caressed this land for several generations, once reminded me about the story of the little girl who a grownup asked which bird — among all the pretty birds at the feeder – was her favorite. The adult was taken aback when she answered, “The sparrows.”

“Wouldn’t one of the birds that’s so brightly colored and sings so nicely be better?” the adult said.

“No, those pretty birds always leave. The sparrows are always here for me,” the child said.

Thank goodness that this land, this northern Driftless place we know as Trempealeau County, is so filled with those sparrows, nuthatches, woodpeckers and cardinals.

And yes, we even can be thankful for its blue jays so noisy and pushy. They’ll always be here for us, their voices so loud and scolding in life’s woodlot even when they don’t have to be.

— Scott Schultz


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