Date: 1/5/21 8:09 am
From: Ted Levin <tedlevin1966...>
Subject: [VTBIRD] January 4, 2021: Coyote Hollow, Thetford Center
7:21 a.m. 30 degrees, wind NNE 2 mph, less snow on branches and trunks,
otherwise looks and feels like yesterday. Sky: disheveled gray blanket, the
sun rises unnoticed (by me, at least). Permanent streams: yesterday, all
over again, the tributaries' version of *Groundhog Day*. However, no sign
of Bill Murray in the woods. Wetlands: dull lighting, a suspension of
visible activity (red squirrels and chickadees, prominent marsh-rim
ambassadors, hushed and hobbled by a flat and lifeless morning). Pond: no
new contribution to deer calligraphy, day-old tracks widened by yesterday's
sunshine.

Hairy woodpecker politely drilling into a maple. Crows and jays calling.
Crows high overhead. Jays low, and through the treetops, flashes of
noisy blue and white. Off the beaten path: white-breasted nuthatch, soft,
nasal calls. *Yank, yank, yank.* Not the metallic tooting of red-breasted
nuthatches, conspicuous by their absence. Twenty (a *very *rough count) red
crossbills, call attention to themselves, pass over the road, and vanish in
the pines. Ernie, the Hungarian partridge, on the walkway leading to the
porch, coat inflated. An exaggerated oval of a bird, like a small,
brown-mottled Teletubby. Scooting around the yard, a windup toy of a bird.
Ernie's *not* crazy about gray squirrels, for whom he gives ground . . .
over and over and over. Day after day.

Spring 1998: *I have an idea that would be good for the whole family*,
Linny announced, on the eve of her first round of chemotherapy. *Teddy,
please keep an open mind.* *The boys need a dog*, she said. *There's a
border collie puppy for sale in Woodstock, the last one in the litter. *

Let me give background on my boys, then ten and two. Casey, the older, was
a cross between Clarance Darrow and Wade Boggs. If he wasn't playing
baseball, he debated the finer points of boyhood responsibility and
parental discipline. He was focused and alert, but sometimes when he played
with friends, my pleas fell on deaf ears. On the other hand, Jordan was too
young to employ the superpower of selective hearing. In his world, there
was a *very* fine line between toys and living things.

It had been four years before our last dog died. A tall, princely mix of
Afgan and collie, an obedient homeboy that played well with children,
Reggie was going to be a tough act to follow. But the year after Reggie
died, our yard had transformed into a sanctuary for wildlife. Mammals and
birds scavenged the deer carcasses I placed in the side yard. One spring,
a pair of gray foxes raised six kits in the brambles behind the carcass,
less than a hundred yards from my studio door, caught squirrels in the
front yard, mice and woodchucks in the garden. Nursed on the lawn.

For a naturalist, life without a dog wasn't all bad. But that night, when
Linny brought the idea of a puppy to the entire family, I change my
position. The following morning, we drove to Woodstock. Our puppy, Yogi,
after Berra, the Yankee hall of fame catcher, was bright-eyed and
big-footed, black and white, and had two immediate missions in life: herd
Jordan and chew upholstery.

Every morning at sunrise, I walked Yogi (some things never change), and
when he was still young, we enrolled him (and us) in obedience school. Near
the end of each session, all puppies were simultaneously unleashed. After a
few minutes, one at a time, each owner called his or her puppy. After each
puppy reported to his master, the puppy was given a treat and then freed to
resume play. One evening, Yogi, who had always responded to drills, became
distracted by free-play. *Come*,* Yogi, come. Yogi come.* Finally, after my
voice transitioned from exuberance to urgency, Yogi arrived. *Good boy,
Yogi. We'll do better next time.*

Later that night, on the long ride home from obedience school, Casey,
reclining and on the verge of sleep, said, *Pop, Yogi and I are a lot
alike. When friends are around, we can be easily distracted.*

Birds have been distracting me for decades, particularly the past ten
months . . . why stop now?
 
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