I thought of that tonight as I stepped out to fill the bird feeders in darkness on New Years Eve. The temps were zero when I woke up this morning. They're currently hovering in the teens right now as the moon shines above, but the stiff wind will just about peel the skin off your face.
And it all makes me think of a tiny visitor that came to the clear plastic feeder that sticks to my kitchen window many years ago. He still stands out in my memory as a testament to resilience, and survival, and hope, and the fact that every so often, we really all could use a safe place to land.
One chickadee pretty much looks like every other chickadee--crisp, tiny, with brilliant white collars that look just a wee bit "fluffy." They dart, and flit, and visit the feeders on my porch with impunity, jostling for pecking order among the cardinals and nuthatches and goldfinches and various woodpeckers. There's a large feeder that sits on the porch rail and holds more seed and supports several visitors at a time. And then there's the tiny plastic feeder stuck to the window with a suction cup, positioned just at eye level when I'm washing the dishes. It holds less than a cup of seed at once, and has room for just one small bird to feed at a time. I fill both feeders on the porch with the expensive sunflower seeds that already have the shells taken off. More birds like them that way--it takes work to break the seeds out of their shells first--and I like having more kinds of birds around.
On this particular day, a very sorry-looking chickadee showed up at the tiny window feeder. I think it was raining. He was bedraggled, and missing some feathers around his head. One of his legs was broken and it trailed behind his body. He balanced unsteadily on the other, but managed to feed himself without jostling or interference at the window before flying off. I didn't think he was going to make it very long in the natural world where "only the strong survive." I didn't expect to see him at the window again.
I was wrong. He came back day after day, balancing on his one good leg. Eventually the broken leg fell off, and he started to look healthier and stronger...albeit as "normal" as a one-legged chickadee could look. His feathers grew back in, and his white collar gleamed against his black cap and beak. I nicknamed him "Stumpy" for obvious reasons.
I don't know how long chickadees normally live, but Stumpy made it through at least another couple of winters, balancing solidly on his single leg at the tiny window feeder to reach the premium bird seed that kept him going.
Eventually there came a time when he no longer showed up and I knew that the laws of nature had finally caught up with him. But I also knew that he'd gotten a second chance, and his second wind, when he found a steady food supply and a sheltered place to eat it when life must have looked most precarious. And it reminds me that every so often, when life buffets us with surprises and dangers, we can all use some shelter from the storm, a good meal, and a safe place to land.