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I'm Having Blue Jay for Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thank you for the overwhelmingly positive and beautiful response to "The Thing About Jemima." I  spend way too much time worrying about reader reaction to this or that revelation that's been bothering me for months or years until I finally up and say something. It was just wonderful to be able to say, "Here's the deal, and here's the kind of reaction I can handle, feeling as I do about it, so please let's stick to that." And to have everyone, to a person, come through with flying colors, writing lovely positive sentiments that are actually helping me through the glory, the wonder, the hope and, let's face it, the pain of it all. 

My Instagram and Facebook friend Denise wrote, 
"Thank you for sharing her plight. I can now pray for her safety."

To which I replied, "Oddly, that makes this near-pagan feel a lot better!"

Denise: "Ha ha! You be you, I'll be me. We both are for Jemima!" 

So thank you for keeping Jem and her anxious foster Ma in your hearts. When I got up November 20, I hadn't seen her for five days. But it was an easier wait than the eight-day Jemima-free marathon I'd lived through before my last series of sightings. The weather this week had been lousy, cold and cloudy, then warm, with torrential rain, then cloudy and cold, and it just didn't feel like blue jay weather to me. And I barely saw any blue jays around the feeders or yard. That didn't keep me from my vigil. I watched. I waited. I got a little writing done. I did not curl into a ball. But mostly, I hung in there and had faith that she'd come back at least to check in. Baby steps, improvement. 

I raised the blinds on the morning of November 20 and saw the red stain of sunrise spreading into a clear blue sky. Ahhhh. I will see my Jemima today, I thought. 

And sure enough, as soon as I put the corn and seed out, jays were bouncing all over the place. But not The Jay. 

So stuffed with cracked corn they look like bad taxidermists' mounts. Look at the leftmost bird. Glurp!

They're not Jemima, but oh they gladden my heart. I'm trying so hard to tell them apart as individuals, but it's really tough when the cast keeps changing.


A chipmunk (one of the scrappers from a previous post) streaks through and startles a jay into a little corvine capriole. Boing! Ha ha!!


Once again, Chippy sends the jittery jay airborne, while a red-bellied woodpecker says, "Ga-aaw-lee! What's up with you two?" Even brazen blue jays never quite get used to small bloodthirsty mammals zooming right under their feet. Nor should they.

Gosh, I look at those immaculate, intact wings, and just sigh. Jemima should be so lucky. But then it occurs to me that if she were that lucky, she might be in Georgia right now. It is what it is, and I am tremendously blessed to still be seeing a bird I released in mid-June, in November!

I tell Liam, "I know Jemima's going to show up this morning. I just have to be patient." The new bunny who is frequenting the feeder area (post the mid-August cleanout by Cindy the Bobcat) is amusing me greatly. This bunny has rather short ears and a very fat bottom, and it has a habit of coming out of the tangle behind the rhubarb, squirting up into the air with friskiness, then running back in. Soon it will be corn-fed and even fatter of bottom. Maybe I'll call it Julie.

So I watched the bunny for awhile.


And then she appears, at 8:53 AM, flying in from Stage Left. I'd know those tatty wings anywhere.


I start dancing around the studio snapping photos and laughing. I'm transformed from my everyday loose bundle of hope and anxiety to something approaching pure joy. I call Liam in and we holler endearments to her through the glass. She doesn't mind. 


What were you ever worried about? I don't understand you and your handwringing. I'm off doing my stuff. You go ahead and do your stuff. We'll get together now and then. That's how it goes.

My wise friend Margarethe, who has raised several corvid species and studies them always, has been sharing her experiences. Nothing like the voice of experience! She advised that Jemima's absences could get longer and longer as she builds independence and social networks.  She imparted this wisdom:

"You are both lucky and terribly exposed to hardship because you live right in Blue Jay territory, so Jemima could stay around. But as a juvenile, she still might have to join a more distant flock and find a new place of her own. Her disappearance could have any kind of reason. You seem to be extremely lucky as a mother. Now your Jay is giving you the experiences of anxiety that many face with their human teens. Open your heart and both joy and pain are inevitable. Lucky you."

Agreed on  my luck as a mother to humans. And agreed on that open heart--how, being open, it's ready to love, and to hurt, too, always. I tell myself, "She's a BIRD." She's a bird. 
How does a bird get so deep into my heart?  


She picks up some corn and flies up to the birch. With a good leap and a lot of flapping, she can get some altitude. Enough to get off the ground and into a tree. Yay for that.


And she appears at her buffet, this glorious stained-glass medley of blue, black and white, and you'd never know there was anything amiss, really, unless you noticed that she has no primaries poking out from under those gaudy tertials. 
She loads up on chicken, swallows some of it, then comes back to stuff her gular pouch full.


Ahh is she not the most beautiful? To think she used to let me kiss the top of that sweet head. 

Full up, she hops to the top of the arbor vitae and exits stage left, toward the back yard. This is a new direction! She flies to an ash tree, hops up to near the top, then launches herself into the clear blue air.



Her flight is lopsided, because she has more feathers on her left wing than her right. Phoebe: "She looks like some kind of crazy falling leaf."



But by God she makes it into the crown of the big pine, one of three that Bill and I planted in the winter of 1992. It's the last pine standing. The other two fell last spring. Jemima needs this tree. I need it, too. Please keep standing, Pine. You're a very useful tree.


She disappears into the needles and I can see the branch shaking as she disgorges and pecks apart the wad of chicken she brought. Her moveable feast.


Full as a tick, she puffs out her feathers and lets the sun warm her belly. She rests for about ten minutes. I'm so proud to see my Jem in the very top of the pine. Altitude is her friend. It's her 
hardest -won treasure. 

When she's done resting, I'm lucky to see her launch back toward the feeders. She uses the altitude she gained to have a really good flutter-glide back into the yard, making a grand entrance as jays love to do. I'm agog and thrilled at this bird's adaptability. At the fact that she can disappear for 5 days, 8 days at a time, then show up fit as a fiddle and twice as fat, to gladden her Ma's heart once more. 
How I would love to know where she's been. How far she goes. And how she does it.


This time, she comes in and finishes her chicken, which had been faithfully refreshed each morning, but lying untouched all week. Then she loads up on dry-roasted peanuts and heads toward the east hill. 

I run to the front window just in time to see her launch off the phone line on her long diagonal flight (the 130' one, but who's counting) to the east hill. She amazes me. The robin is also impressed.


I know I probably won't see her again today. And since Liam and I are heading east for Thanksgiving, I know I won't see her for at least another five days. And then I'm home for two days, then headed to Ecuador for ten days. Am I a nervous wreck about it all? Of course. Do I think she'll survive my leaving? Yep. If she needed my subsidy, she'd be there every day. 

But now I'm writing this post, all aglow with the thrill of having seen her at all. I learn so much from her every time she stops in. 

I turn back to my work and, through the closed windows, I hear the croak of a raven! Ravens are rare vagrants to southeast Ohio, but I've had a real run of sightings in October and November. I think I've seen two different pairs and maybe 3 singles. Oh, bring them on!! When I hear a raven I run out onto the back deck, because I have the best chance of photographing them over our meadow. I'm pretty sure that when we take in the game camera, there will be ravens on it. I don't think it's a coincidence that they inspect that part of the meadow--the meatpile is there! 

Sure enough, I'm incredibly lucky to see a raven, being harrassed by a crow.  And even luckier to get a sharp shot of the action (with willow tree photobomb).


Every time the crow dives close to the raven, the huge bird goes tokatok! It sounds just like someone knocking on a hollow log. A most amazing, loud, sonorous, percussive sound. 

My friend Greg Neise did a little Photoshop magic on my photo to better compare the relative shapes and sizes of crow and raven. Crow: top. Raven: lower bird. Look at the difference in their bills! And the length of that raven's wing! 


Seeing this pair of corvids, right after having such a wonderful session with Jemima, feels to me like a great  blessing, a benediction. A lucky sign.


What better Thanksgiving bounty than three corvids in one yard? And Jemima, well and independent and still, somehow, flying free. Keep her in your heart.


This post is dedicated to my sweet friend Melanie and beautiful Alex
 @myecocentriclife on Instagram. Go give her some love.
Sending it with a chorus of blue jay yells and all the love in the world.

6 comments:

And now my heart is even more full. Jemima is such a blessing to us all and I love her like she was my own. I understand and appreciate the emotion and anguish this job and challenge has brought you but I'm so glad this story is yours to experience and tell. No one could do it better or with my gravitas and gusto. I anxiously await every update on this bird like so many others. My positives vibes and well wishes go with her wherever she goes. Hope you and all yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving season, as does Jemima. May you be reunited upon both your returns!

I am keeping Jemima in my heart. Happy Thanksgiving, Julie and family!

Oh, this does gladden my heart! Since your last Jemima post, I've been doing my version of prayer: sending you and her love, positive energy and healing. Surely all that positivity that has been sent your way by so many must have some effect! Thank you for posting this as quickly as possible. There are so many of us who hang onto every word about her. I will continue to do my "pagan prayer" for her and for you.

Posted by Anonymous November 24, 2017 at 3:59 AM

She's a bird, a magnificent one. She's doing very well, for now, which is all any of us can hope for, and it's thanks to you. And developmental homeostasis.

My family convened at the cemetery today to unveil my father's tombstone. Our short readings and Mourner's Kaddish were accompanied but not drowned out by the half-dozen bluejays screaming from the tree above.

Julie, I go to Mount Auburn Cemetery at least twice a week, more often when I can. I so love the place, and conjure it when stuck inside. This morning it was very quiet there at first, and then the blue jays started a conversation. It made me think of you and your incredible expertise and talent for including the rest of us in your close encounters. Thank you!

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