It is just before 5 p.m.. The sun set a few minutes ago, far to the south of where it set during the summer. Clouds over the lake obscured the sun as it made its descent, erasing what had been a promising sunset. Now, the sky overhead has cleared and the bare limbs of trees are silhouetted against the darkening early wintry sky.
Cold weather has yet to truly set in, although it has made a few brief appearances. The other morning we awoke to snow, the ground covered; it had been raining when we went to bed but changed to snow overnight. There are no major storms in sight, keeping with the tendency of truly wintry weather to set in ever later in December. When I moved here forty years ago winter often began before Thanksgiving, now its onset moves ever closer to Christmas.
The ground is bare, leaving exposed the bumper crop of seeds produced by plants over the past summer; as a result, the bird feeder has been underutilized. When we had snow last week, flocks descended on it, emptying the feeder in a day. Even as the birds forage for themselves, they greet me when I go into the back yard, and serenade me while I refill the feeder. They know us well and will come in search of us when the feeder gets low.
We have a compact with the birds. Once we beginning feeding in the fall, we will keep the feeder filled until the spring. If we are away, we know that neighbors will meet the extra need, and replenish their feeders to meet the shifting demand. As a result, our overwintering birds can count on the support of a community of humans who are committed to their care.
Sometimes it seems we humans have more difficulty caring for our own, or for the greater ecosystems we depend on for our very survival. I imagine this arises, at least in part, from ideas we hold about our capacity to live without the support of a much larger community; we are challenged to remember that our fates are interconnected with those of others, even the bees.
These ideas about individuality persist even in the absence of any objective data to support them. Perhaps we should not be surprised, as we are a species that is driven by ideas, even as we are not very accomplished at assessing their validity. Perhaps this explains our dogged refusal to acknowledge the rapidly accelerating pace of environmental degradation and climate change, or the overwhelming similarity between our lives and those of all other beings.