Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Walter's Beautiful Neighborhood

Walter reads Horton Hatches the Egg to Chuckie Chickadee

I’ve been taking my 1 ½-year-old grandson on little walks around the block lately. As with my own children at that age, Walter is fascinated by trucks and other large vehicles—lately, he’s especially taken with their big tires. On our walks, we always have to stop when any truck is parked nearby, and when one goes past, Walter always waves. And the drivers always wave back, whether they’re at the wheel of a city bus, a garbage truck, a street cleaning vehicle, a construction vehicle, or a big tractor trailer truck.  

A few times we've encountered the letter carrier or his red, white, and blue mail truck. One time we were passing right at the moment he was getting ready to carry a package and letters to Walter’s house, and he gave them to us. Walter was thrilled. Another time he was just about to get back into the truck to drive to the next neighborhood, and Walter watched as he closed the door, started the engine, and drove away, smiling and waving at the tiny boy who beamed as he waved back.  

When there isn’t a fascinating vehicle about, there are plenty of other things to notice. If we’re wearing boots, we stomp in every puddle. And Walter pays special attention to flowers. He softly touches purple or white violets and shakes his head no, confirming that he knows not to pick them. But he is always allowed to pick dandelions. At first he grabbed the flower heads, but after I picked a few at the base of the stem, he noticed that it’s easier to hold several dandelions at once by the stems than by the heads.  

Of course we look at birds. Robins are conspicuous just about everywhere, and we often see a Merlin on the corner—they must have a nest nearby. There are plenty of Blue Jays, crows, and chickadees about, and Walter recognizes them by sight and call.  

Because we’re moving so slowly and often completely stopped, quite a few pedestrians pass us by, and every single one of them smiles at this sweet little boy, who smiles and waves bye bye as they walk on. Walter knows firsthand how friendly and kind people are.  It’s always a beautiful day in Walter's neighborhood.   

On Wednesday, when Walter and I were in the living room, a brilliant red cardinal flew to his bird feeder and then to a nearby tree. While we watched, I made a cardinal whistle, and after the bird flew, we went to my laptop and I opened the cardinal page on my website, which has a nice closeup of a male and a play button to hear his song. 

Walter listened with interest and clapped his hands, but then said, “dee-dee-dee.” I said no, that’s what a chickadee says, and he said it again. I laughed and said, “Cardinals don’t say ‘dee dee dee.’They whistle!” He said “Chee-dee,” and I said no, this was a cardinal. Then Walter proved without a shadow of a doubt that he's smarter than I am. He patiently repeated “chee-dee” as he pointed to the tiny Black-capped Chickadee illustrations at the top of the webpage.  

I can’t even begin to express how dear this child is to me, and how happy I am that the world he knows is such a jolly, welcoming, safe place filled with birds and flowers and smiling people. After singing our three nap-time songs on Tuesday, and him saying nigh-nigh to Bear and Bunny and Dr. Blue Jay and Chuckie Chickadee and all his other animals before falling gently to sleep, I opened my computer to the horrifying news of yet another school shooting by yet another angry 18-year-old who could more easily purchase a rapid-fire weapon and an obscene amount of ammo than I can buy a package of Sudafed. And within hours there were reports about the instant rise in the market value of gun manufacturing corporations. One of my friends at an optics retailer told me they always have a big bump in sales of rifle scopes after every mass shooting.  

In America today, there are more guns than human beings—120 civilian-owned firearms per 100 people, including babies. It’s much more profitable to create a nation of mass shooters, vigilantes, and people arming themselves with military grade weapons out of fear than a nation where children can grow up secure in the knowledge that people are kind and smiley, not legally armed with everything they need to kill as many people as possible in churches, outdoor concerts, grocery stores, and elementary schools.  

Walter woke from his nap to the same loving, happy world he knows—the world every baby deserves to live in—even as the NRA was in the midst of preparing for their big annual Memorial Day weekend meeting, this year in Houston, so close to where so many Texans are grieving. The NRA prohibits guns at these meetings, of course. And I wonder at what precise point America's grandmas and grandpas and mothers and fathers will say, “Enough.” And at what precise point Congress and the Supreme Court will finally listen.   

Walter and Chuckie Chickadee