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Chickadee grace

Finding and feeding friends during a pandemic.

As I write this from Edmonton, Alberta, it’s looking to be a long, cold winter exacerbated by a pandemic that requires limited human-to-human contact. Normally our house is full on Christmas Day with our children, their partners and grandchildren, as well as a couple of dogs. Tables are stretched, extra chairs are hauled up from the basement and much laughter and merriment ensues. Much of this is repeated a week later at New Year’s celebrations. But this year I had Christmas dinner with only my dear spouse, Louisa, and on New Year’s Eve we were in bed by 11:00 p.m.

But every day, Louisa and I do a 5 km walk in Rundle Park, which is one of the many parks on the flatlands along the North Saskatchewan River that meanders its way through Edmonton from south-west to north-east. Along the pathways of the riparian woods that border the river’s banks we regularly allay some of our COVID-19 isolation by meeting and sharing food with some unexpected friends, all within the guidelines of our Chief Provincial Health Officer.

Small moments of grace

The Black-capped Chickadee is the most widespread chickadee in North America, equally at home in the cold far north, and in warm Appalachian valleys. This tiny (131 mm) little busy body of a bird weighs only about 11 grams and flits about noisily in small, gregarious flocks calling out its namesake “chick-a-dee-de-dee” and a clear whistled “pee-ter.”  Whether it’s a balmy 5C or a bone-chilling -25C, they are undeterred in their winter search for seeds. If you’re reasonably still and hold out a few black-oil sunflower seeds in a bare, extended hand, a wonderful thing might happen. One of these little sprites may light on a twig of a close-by aspen branch and then, wonder of wonders, fly out to your out-stretched hand, quickly grab a seed, and then fly off to a branch to break it open to eat the meat. It then calls to its friends and, before you know it, a small squadron of these little creatures are trusting themselves not to be grabbed by a giant hand. Human passersby often stop and look on in wonder. We offer them some seeds and watch as they nervously stand with out-stretched hand and, more often than not, a look of sheer amazement and wonder lights up their faces. Women are usually more eager than men to try their hand at feeding the chickadees, but sometimes a tough-looking guy, at the urging of his female companion, will agree to try, and when a chickadee alights, even he can’t suppress a look of joy.

The little ticklish skritch of the tiny feet, the quick peck of the beak, and the tiny whoosh of air as the bird flies away with its morsel are small moments of grace that remind us of creation’s beauty in the midst of an ugly pandemic. If a tiny bird will bless us with its trust, how much more can we trust in the benevolence of the Creator who made it.

  • Bob is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton.

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