Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Joy in the Morning

Pileated Woodpecker at my window feeder 

I’m a morning person, usually waking without an alarm clock. Except close to the summer solstice, I’m usually up before first light.   

I always need both time and coffee before I can handle noise or bright light in the morning. Scientists call the transition between sleeping and alert states sleep inertia, the time it takes to become fully functional. It can last up to four hours for some people. My own sleep inertia doesn’t last anywhere near the maximum, but it does last a good 45 minutes most days. When I need to be somewhere early and must set an alarm, I always set it 45 minutes earlier than what I’d need to get ready.    

I keep the lights low while I make my coffee, and I need quiet. Once or twice a week in the afternoon, I grind a few days’ worth of coffee beans into a small, airtight container. In the early morning quiet, after pouring just shy of two cups of water into the electric kettle, set at 205º, I press a moistened  paper filter into my ceramic pour-over funnel, set that into my good old Cornell Lab coffee cup, measure two rounded scoops of coffee into the filter, and take my dog Pip out while the water heats. In spring when birds are singing, this is when I set out my sound recorder to capture the dawn chorus. My kettle holds the temperature, so it doesn’t matter if Pip or I are a little poky.   

I pour the hot water over the coffee grounds slowly, in counterclockwise circles. It’s debatable whether the direction really matters, even with the spiraling grooves in the funnel, but the routine matters to me. I love watching hot water transform into coffee, savoring the aroma as the coffee grounds swell and darken when the water first touches them, and then seem to slowly exhale as the last of the water seeps through.     

I carry my cup to my desk, still keeping the lights too low to accomplish much of anything. If it’s starting to get light outside, I roll my chair to the window and gaze at the yard. Last year when a Rufous Hummingbird visited me from early November through December 4, this quiet routine made it easy for me to notice what time she first arrived each day. Being addicted to coffee probably indicates a flaw in my character, but making and drinking it is, for me, a soul-satisfying way to begin my day.   

Rufous Hummingbird

This Saturday morning, it was already light outside when I carried my coffee to my office, so I filled the window feeder and sat there, savoring coffee and birds as I thought about how extraordinarily lucky I am. I often feel a suffusion of well-being and contentedness during my sleep inertia state, and Saturday it was heightened watching birds coming and going. No matter what the season, I can count on chickadees, who always have the power to make me smile. 

Black-capped Chickadee

So do Blue Jays, and two of them are sticking around this fall quite reliably. These two didn’t stay last winter but are old friends, both flying in for peanuts as soon as I whistle in the backyard. I don’t whistle when I fill my office window feeder, but if they’re nearby and notice, they fly in for the spicy peanuts in the Fiery Feast blend I use. When I’m right there at the window, their eyes meet mine occasionally, a friendly acknowledgment. At least, I like to imagine that we’re friends. I’d guess the relationship is more transactional in their minds, but it seems condescending and arrogant to presume to know a Blue Jay’s thought processes. Whatever they think of me, I’m happy that my presence at least doesn’t scare them away.  

Blue Jay

The jays disappeared  when a much larger bird flew to the feeder—a female Pileated Woodpecker, barely two feet from me. Like the jays, her eyes met mine. She pointed her bill to the sky and bobbed her head from side to side a few times, and then started feeding. Whenever she looked at me again, she repeated that bobbing movement. Looking at the underside of her head, my sleepy brain pieced together how woodpecker eye placement gives them  a wide, clear view of what’s below as well as above.  

Pileated Woodpecker at my window feeder

I’d never seen Pileateds do that head bobbing so closely until two weeks ago, when this same bird was at this same feeder while I was drinking coffee from this same cup. I’d made a video of it to show my grandson Walter. “Woodpecker” is one of his words, and we had a delightful time mimicking her, looking up and bobbing our own heads from side to side.  

Pileated Woodpecker at my window feeder

On Saturday morning, my suffusion of gratitude during sleep inertia swelled to high intensity. I’d made a list last year of my all-time favorite birds. Black-capped Chickadees hold the Number One spot, and Blue Jays and Pileated Woodpeckers are tied in second place. Imagine all three of my favorite birds in the universe visiting my  feeder when I’m inches away! The Pileated doesn’t always come to this feeder, but she and BB, the banded male I’m so fond of, have both been visiting my suet feeders every day.   

I savored the last dregs of coffee and rolled my chair away from the window, ready to start the day. Even as I gathered laundry and started the washing machine, worked on an article about my Alaska trip, put the wet clothes in the dryer, and went back to writing, a glow of happiness clung to me. If I’m not the luckiest person in the world, I’m certainly in a tie for first place.  

Pileated Woodpecker at my window feeder