ONE morning, birdsong was not my customary greeting. It was the sound of hacking and breaking.
A homeowner in our cul-de-sac hired men to cut down the mahogany trees growing outside the perimeter wall. Every summer, we reap the avalanche of leaves shed by the trees.
Owners fear for vehicles parked under the quickly balding canopies. Homemakers wage a futile war against leaves, wind, and gravity. Only a few—kids biking in the prolonged sunshine, commode-seeking cats and dogs and a secret admirer of trees—revel in the shedding wars.
Informed that it is illegal to cut without a permit, the neighbor halted the project.
In summer, mahogany trees shed off all their old coats and don new emerald ones faster than I can wield a broom and sweep their faded majesty into bags for disposal. Burning leaves, hazardous to people and environment, is also illegal.
Not being a cat or a dog, I cannot swim into the pile, play hide-and-seek and then nonchalantly walk away after pooping in my playground. So I sweep and bag and cough and squint—a chore immeasurably repaid by drinking without stint in the symphony nature orchestrates with trees, sky and birds.
What can match a view of the green of trees, the blue of sky and the rainbow flashed by birds passing through? The blinding whiteness of Little Egrets, the gold of Orioles, the turquoise and aquamarine of Kingfishers. Even the brown of Shrikes shames language; writer Jonathan Franzen tried to pin down the “nearly infinite shades of brown” reducing everyone, from avian taxonomists to bird admirers, to tongue-tied raptness: “rufous, fulfous, ferruginous, bran-colored, foxy.”
No one can dress up like a tree; birds know this. While we bemoan trees as street litter or hazards, birds have more wisdom. That comes with the territory; birds are more evolved than humans, being around “150 million years longer” than us, as Franzen wrote in his January 2018 essay for the “National Geographic.”
The only thing he notes that we can do better than birds, or trees for that matter, is master the environment. Yet, this is all that matters.
Afternoons of sweeping and bagging leaves have given me a deep desire never to look at another pet turd again, as well as two nests. One is shaped like a pinwheel; the other, an elongated box. Mahogany leaves are intricately folded and joined by a paper-thin yellowish-white material I am guessing is bird saliva.
Ecologists have noted how birds in the Italian Alps use plastic, foil and cigarette butts to make their nests, instead of natural materials. I placed these found nests on the altar, praying we will never reduce birds to weaving with our trash.